Popular Science Monthly/Volume 67/October 1905/The College of the White Deer Grotto

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View of the White Deer College.




A NEWCOMER to China is sure to be surprised by two things at least, not to mention many others, viz., the grandeur of the scenery in certain sections and the unexpected excellence of the means of transportation on her chief waterways. Both of these were factors in the trip which the writer recently made to the famous Confucian stronghold, hoary with age, hid away among the hills of central China—the College of the White Deer Grotto.

In order to appreciate more fully the scenic surroundings and the secluded location of this most noted of Confucian schools, we shall notice the scenery encountered en route at a greater length than might on first thought seem suitable to our topic, for it is important to get the full setting of this cloister, within whose ivy grown walls there was in former clays such deep searching into the doctrines of the 'Princely Man' and the 'Great Learning.'

Crossing the Woo Sung bar at the mouth of the Shanghai River at daybreak, our steamer, a modern screw craft of some 3,600 tons and 1,500 horse-power, turned her head up the mighty Yangtsze, China's aorta of trade, and for four hundred and fifty miles we pushed against the swift current of that coffee-colored stream, passing en route the important ports of Chinkiang, near the mouth of the Grand Canal, Nanking, a former capital of the 'Celestial Empire' and still its most famous literary center, and Wuhu, an immense lumbering depot, to disembark at Kiukiang, the country's chief mart for 'china,' while the steamer passed on some hundred and fifty miles further to Hankow, the center of the great tea trade. The river steamers do not run up to piers or wharves, but at such ports as we have named they run alongside the dismantled and anchored bulks of former ocean-going vessels which lie offshore and are connected to the land by a sort of bridges. These hulks are 'fitted up' on the deck as residences for the local agents, while their hulls serve admirably as storage godowns. At

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Junk on the Grand Canal near Chinkiang loaded with dried reed grass.
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Ten Li Bridge passed between Kiukiang and Ruling.

the smaller ports the ship does not make a landing, but merely reduces her speed, and barges carrying freight and passengers (mostly the latter at such ports) conic out from shore and arc made fast alongside—the transfer being made while under small headway. When the freight is sufficient at such ports the steamer casts anchor.

There are several lines of steamers plying the river and there is considerable competition, though the British rather have the lead on the others. There are two British lines and one Chinese line on whose steamers tickets are interchangeable, thus facilitating stop-overs, and between them they will shortly run a steamer each way each day on the six hundred mile run from Shanghai to Hankow. An enterprising Japanese firm and a German line are pushing for trade, and between these five regular lines and the many tramp merchantmen, the amount of freight moved easily makes the Yangtsze the main trade-artery of the empire.

We approached Nanking in the small hours of the morn, and as I sat on deck watching the grayness of the early dawn give way to the upward slanting pinkish beams of the orb of day I beheld a glorious sight—the water at my feet, then the curving shore, beyond to the eastward the graceful towers and pagodas of the city, and in the distance the peaceful gray and bluish hills, along the sculptured heights of which the first gleams of a sun, that would soon be altogether dazzling, were silently but swiftly stealing. Out on the river three vague forms, like huge monsters of the sea crept into inland waters, loomed suggestively through the diminishing gloom, and as the first rays that marked the beginning of a central China scorcher stole over the eastern hills, the reveille call of bugles turned my eyes upon these monster shadows, and from out the disappearing mist there came three men of war under as many flags, British, German and Chinese; the last in snowy white flying the dragon flag, the others in darksome coats, as if prepared for war. Their bugle notes were answered, as by an echo, from the camps of Chinese provincial troops on shore.

When I first saw the Yangtsze and traveled on its swiftly rushing surface it was the beginning of winter, and her waters were low and falling; but even then I was struck with the magnitude of this great waterway dividing the empire nearly in twain from east to west. On this trip it was summer and her bed was full, the rush and width of her muddy waters even more majestic. Piloting in midsummer is somewhat easier on account of the steady fullness of the water, but in the spring and autumn, during the rise and fall of the chocolate stream, the changes in the channels are many and various, so that piloting is no mean art. In sharp and yet pleasing contrast with the brown current, the banks and alluvial plains were green with tall reed grass, much used for fuel, which nearly everywhere attained a height of from seven to ten feet. On either side of the river away across the plains successive ranges of hills were overshadowed by huge masses of cumulus cloud sharply outlined against a very blue sky. Sometimes the foothills stretched to the river's brink, and the occasional cliffs thus formed bore upon their tops graceful temples and pagodas, for in China the best places and sites are always given over to temples and pagodas, if not to graves.

As we left Wuhu, we passed many lumbering rafts, some immense ones with a draft of ten feet or more, carrying huts and food, live stock (mostly pigs and chickens), etc., for some thirty or fifty people, the families and assistants of the men who were bringing the lumber to market. They went with the current, of course, but they managed to keep clear of shallows, mud banks and rocks by the artful device of sending out a small crew in a heavy skiff with a large anchor, from which a hempen cable ran to the raft and was there made to wind up on a stout capstan revolved by some twenty pairs of hands. By sending this auxiliary anchor-boat to the proper point, both in direction and in distance, they could, by winding up the cable, drag the raft even athwart the very current of 'the yellow dragon,' the mighty Yangtsze.

Though only thirty miles from Kiukiang to the White Deer Grotto, it is a good two days' journey on foot and by chair across plains and over hills of no mean height, for the route led us across the Lü Mountains by way of Killing and the Nank'ang pass. Instead of arriving at noon, as it should, our steamer reached Kiukiang at midnight, at the end of a heavy rain; yet we decided to push right on across the plains and to do our climbing in the cool of the early morning. Accordingly, after much discussion with the coolies, who everywhere in China wrangle vociferously over the terms of any bargain, we managed to get four coolies for each chair, several torch bearers who carried long bamboo flare torches, and some three baggage coolies apiece, and our long procession stalked across the rice fields, or rather between them, for they were under water, across streams and along marshes, under a heavily clouded yet at times moon-lit sky. As we went ahead we found the chair coolies grumbling with the man who had bought the torches for not getting enough, and on persistent inquiry we found that the fellow had 'squeezed' half of the Mexican dollar we had given him for torches, and had bought only fifty cents' worth. Barring a few stumbles and one spill, however, we succeeded in arriving safely at the half-way house among the foothills at 4:30 a.m. After a short rest and a cold bite, we started on foot to climb the steep ascent to Killing Valley. We went up slope after slope, one long stretch having some two thousand steps, getting, as the fuller light of day began to dawn, magnificent views of the plains across which we had come in the dark and of the Yangtsze curving in a great S beyond. In some places the drop off the side of the path, which in many sections was paved with large granite blocks, was quite sheer and a fall would have plunged one some two hundred feet into the rocky bed of the rushing stream, up whose course we were wending our way in search of a cool haven from the heat of the plains. As we journeyed, the sun rose, the cool of the morning gave way to the heat of the on-coming day, and we earned our ascent, if not our bread, by the sweat not only of our brow, but of back and thigh as well.

The toilsome ascent proved too much to allow the journey to be continued without a rest at Killing, and we succumbed to the sleep-inducing effects of the mountain air of central China. Killing is a long valley, with three side valleys, running about northwest and southeast,

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View secured on ascending Kuling Pass.

and from the eastern slope, through the gap at the upper end and over the backs of the gigantic elephant-like hills that form the western slope, magnificent sunsets are to be seen. Here a concession has been granted so that foreign residents may have a retreat from the summer heat of the lower land, and some eight hundred people of various nationalities annually find refreshment in this valley. The bungalows are all simple, yet comfortable, one-story affairs, most of them of hewn stone taken from the adjacent hills which stand bare to view, the only attempt at covering being stubby foliage of no great beauty and of little height. While resting here we made a half clay's excursion along one spur of the Lü Shan, down to where several water-driven incense mills were steadily pounding by the side of a small stream which came tumbling down by leaps and bounds over rocky places, and at several of these sudden descents small wooden over-shot water-wheels operated two long, heavy horizontal beams, making them see-saw up and down about a pivot where they pierced the wall of a squatty mat-shed, the half of which was a small closed chamber, within which the further ends of the beams carried great heavy stones, shaped like huge dull chisels, and these, working up and down on the stone floor of the closed room, pounded into a fine powder small chips of previously dried pine wood. The dry powder that results is the incense and is carried by coolies over the mountains to the towns and temples round about. This region was formerly the site of some four hundred monasteries and temples. and our route passed one sawed-off pinnacle which bore on its top the ruins of an old monastery while on a neighboring peak stood a delapidated pagoda, evidences of the wreck caused by the famous Tai Ping rebellion (1850-1864). On our way down to these mills we had several magnificent views from cliffs which dropped sheer off to the plains far, far below. With jagged rocky peaks to the right as we looked down, there ran precipitously between them and us a lovely silvery stream, all afoam from its conflict with the rocks and boulders. Away below stretched a row of small foothills clustered in groups of three and four, and around and beyond these a low level plain dotted with a thousand small lakes or ponds was intersected by dozens of streams and canals which at last combined to form a tributary of the Yangtsze, a long graceful curve of which appeared in the distance as it rounded a promontory, bearing on its shores the town of Kiukiang. Above all this plain and surrounding the nearer mountain crests hung great masses of cumulus cloud tinted by the rays of the setting sun, the whole effect presenting a picture of such beauty and sublimity that the beholder could easily appreciate why native scholars have so often celebrated it in gladsome song.

We made an early morning start from Kuling, so as to reach the grotto by noon. On attaining the summit of Nank'ang Pass we saw spread before us the region between the southeastern slope of the Lü Mountains and the sacred Poyang Lake, and on a small promontory, straight before us, on the west shore of the lake, the city of Nank'ang, with its striking pagoda, was just discernible. Several steam launches, looking like mere toy boats, could be seen plying between the many lovely and populous islets enclosed by this most important of China's few lakes (90 miles by 20 miles). Descending the stone-paved trail that led us down these mountain precipices, we headed toward a point about sever miles north of the city. For some distance, after reaching the region of the lower hills, our path led us along the shady banks of a beautiful stream, in the limpid water of which we stopped awhile to bathe, for it was impossible to resist the temptation to test the depth of such a series of great pot-holes as here invited to a plunge. Passing on. now among stunted pines, now across stretches of arid red sandstone and clay, over no real roads, hut by winding paths let ween many small divisions of cultivated field, we came at last to a secluded valley at the junction of two rippling brooks, with 'five old peaks' standing like parapets on a rampart for the background, and the lake winding up a larger valley and spreading out beyond the undulating foothills.

Genius in China, as elsewhere, renders a place illustrious, and few spots are more celebrated than this lovely vale of the White Deer, where Chü Fit Tsz, the greatest commentator of Confucius, lived and taught in the twelfth century. It is still a place of pilgrimage to Chinese literati, for Chü's writings are prized by them next to their classics. Crossing the 'Fairy Bridge' over one of the rivulets, whose constant murmur lent enchantment to the otherwise quiet nook, we saw before us a high 'compound' wall, red in part and white in part. Passing the lesser gates, under gilded ideographs, we stood at last in the courtyard of a college older than any university of Europe, Salerno not excepted. This ancient seat of learning was rebuilt when the banners of the third crusade were advancing on Jerusalem, and its real beginning is hid behind the veil of past ages.

According to Chinese history, the grotto, which shows no signs of a natural origin, being dug out of a cliff and arched over with masonry, was the retreat of the illustrious poet Li P'u (or Li Tai-peh), who flourished during the T'ang dynasty, toward the latter part of the ninth century. P'u had a tame white deer which accompanied him in his walks abroad, and thus he became known as the 'white deer gentleman' and his dwelling as 'the white deer grotto.' A very crude stone image a deer, placed there by Ho Tsing in the fourteenth century, now stands beneath this arch. When promoted to be sub-prefect at Kiangchou, now Kiukiang, P'u built a kiosk over his former sequestered abode, rendering the spot memorable from that day.

At a time when dynasty fast gave way to dynasty (five successive houses holding sway between 907-960) this sheltered corner was the retreat of worthy scholars from far and near, and here fields were bought, buildings erected, students gathered, and a school opened, from the famous halls of which were to come men able to help guide the affairs of state. Si Shan-tao, a master of the Nine Canonical Books, was taken from the Imperial Academy to become the president of this institution, styled the Government School of the Lü Mountains. In 906 it was raised to the grade of a university coordinate with the other three universities of the realm. The enrolment was then one hundred students.

The fortunes of this seat of learning suffered many reverses,

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Panorama of Kuling Valley.

followed by only partial recoveries, until 1174 (or 1179?), during the Sung dynasty, when Chü Fu Tsz (or Chü Hui-ngan, or Chü Hsi) became prefect of Nank'ang, and undertook to repair the buildings, then somewhat, as now, in ruin, and to restore prosperity to the institution, which held so high a place in the national annals, thus adding to its fame the luster of bis own great name. He purchased additional lands for the support of the scholars, established a collegiate code, parts of which are inscribed on the backs of the doors, and frequently visited the college to instruct the students, many of whom rose to prominence.

The publication of the classics being at that time forbidden, general education had fallen to a low ebb, and all classes, officials and common folk alike, felt the consequent chagrin. Chü Fu Tsz in an audience with the emperor, as inspector of the State Department, made a plea for more liberal education, setting forth the great disparity between the numerous and prosperous Taoist and Buddhist temples (in the provincial capital more than one hundred, and in every prefecture several tens) and the sparse and poorly supported schools (only one in a prefecture and none in the small districts), and urging the bestowal of an Imperial Tablet (a stone bearing a classical inscription prepared by the Hanlin Academy), in order that the prestige of the Grotto University might be restored, honor paid to His Majesty's meritorious predecessors and the scholars of the realm favored. This he ventured to beg at the risk of his life, for the civil authorities regarded even this action with suspicion.

The request was granted, but the tablet did not assure perpetual
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Panorama of Kuling Valley.

blessing. At the close of the next dynasty it was cast out into the brush during a commotion, and not till the sixth emperor of the Ming dynasty (cir. 1470) was it found and replaced. It is not recorded how long Chü Fu Tsz labored here, hut legend claims that he spent the rest of his life as president of this institution and was buried in the shady grove near by.

The following is a rather free rendering of a part of this noted preceptor's collegiate code, written on the inner panels of the doors of the assembly hall:

The ancient worthies taught men to seek the principles of righteousness and to cultivate a moral conduct which would influence others. They did not wish men merely to exercise their memories in writing compositions to secure fame and profit. But the students of to-day (Chü Fu Tsz's time) do not follow the ancient worthies. Let all earnest students give heed, inquire and discriminate. If a man knows his duty and forces himself to do it, will he not finally know instinctively what is right without any rules of order?. . . The important subjects taught by the ancients I myself will investigate with all the students, and we will force ourselves to practise them. . . .
The unpretentious buildings, evidently designed for use and not for show, are comprised in eight paved but uncovered courts and afforded sufficient shelter for the four hundred students that are said to have gathered there in the palmy days when scholars prepared for the service of the state by writing verses to the stars. Three sides of each court are given up to living rooms for students, two in each,
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The Grotto and the Image of the Deer.

while the fourth or upper side gives space for teachers' quarters and class-rooms.

But in one court in place of the teachers' quarters there is a high pillard shrine-room, where behind red curtains sits the massive wooden statue of Chü Fu Tsz, an object of reverence as the intellectual father of the race of students cultured here. This room comes just in front of the grotto where the image of the white deer stands. An inscription in huge characters hangs above his throne and on either side are tablets to the memory of his distinguished disciples.

Passing into the adjacent court through a circular doorway we stand in the sanctum sanctorum of the college, in the very midst of its buildings, occupied by a temple with great double doors smeared with the ubiquitous Chinese red. Dark and damp, the main hall of this temple offers shelter to large images of Confucius, Mencius and fifteen of the famous disciples of the sage. This image of Confucius is rather contrary to custom, and is perhaps accounted for by the Buddhistic inclinations of Chü Fu Tsz. Besides this crude wooden image, there is also a portrait of the sage, one of the only three reputed to have been made. It is engraved life-size on a huge slab of dark slate, and is evidently the product of no mean skill.

In a small room in front of this Confucian temple is enshrined, curiously enough, a tutelar god. Formerly this room was supposed to bestow remarkable success in the examinations for high degrees upon all those who had studied in it, because of the literary god standing in a little pavilion across the brook, who holds in his hand a pencil which points directly to that room, and who guided the pen of the favored occupant to heaven-bestowed success. In consequence of the favor thus vouchsafed to those who studied in this room, there was such a great rush each season to secure it that vigorous quarrelling and even murder ensued, so that it was relegated to an idol and since then no student has been allowed to study there'.

Mr. R. E. Lewis, of Shanghai, in his 'Educational Conquest of the Far East,' recites the amusing experience of himself and three American companions when visiting the grotto a few years ago. The curiosity of the Chinese concerning all things foreign has often been noted before, but the actions of these students may still be recalled with interest:

We stood in Chü Hsi's venerable college, and presently one, two, three, hesitating, inquisitive men with long finger nails, approached, and stood awkwardly about. After a word of greeting we were shown the main eating room where high square tables, benches with no backs, rice bowls and chop-sticks were chiefly in evidence. Looking around for the New York man of the party, we saw him still in the outer court, beset by two importunate students. They had begun with his shoes, the laces and metal eye-holes being duly explained. They took in his stockings, which were black, in curious contradistinction to a Chinese gentleman's white hose. They fingered his white duck trousers and coat, anxious to know T the cost. The chief Confucian inquisitor proceeded to ask and to prove how many sets of garments a foreigner wears on his arms. This coincided with the three coats which the Chinese expect to wear in weather somewhat colder. When they had reached the New Yorker's pith-hat, there was an outburst of ill-mannered laughter. This prince of Chinese investigators held the piece of head gear in his hand and commented on its lightness in comparison to its umbrella dimensions. He made this sally, 'What is your honorable hat made of?' The New Yorker being yet young in China could not recall the Chinese expression for 'pith,' and turned to another of the party
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Image of Confucius.
to ask. Thou came an ironical burst of glee—'This foreign teacher does not know what his own hat is made of.'

Still more significant is the treatment these visitors received from the master of the school, for it typifies in itself quite well the change in China's mental attitude in her contact with western thought, as pointed out in our first paper*[2]—from initial arrogance and conceited ignorance to a lively appreciation of the value of the newer learning:

Before we left the college we found a teacher sitting at the head of one of the courts with a bandage about his head. He was not glad to see us, his
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A View of the College Halls.
malaria possibly accounted for his incivility, which, however, might have been aggravated by the fact that two of the company forgot to remove their spectacles on coming into his presence. However, his frigidity wore off, and when it came out that the foreigners could write (more or less) as well as talk his native language, the professor rose slowly and stood as he talked with us. Enquiring if we were students he seemed first abashed and then incredulous when he learned that all his interlocutors were second degree men. He looked as much as to say 'These foreign chaps must have bought their degrees, if they really have them'—not an unnatural thought for a Chinese.

At length when the professor was thawed out, to the point of civility at least, the Bostonian in the party produced from his impedimenta a large package of Chinese books. The professor, with a quizzical look on his face, received a beautifully illustrated life of Christ, and Dr. Faber's four volume Commentary on the Classics, from a Christian standpoint. The learned man saw the beauty of the printing, and bowed his acknowledgments. Then ensued a scramble anion" the students for the remaining books. One fine-looking fellow secured a large volumed commentary on St. Mark and St. Luke, and three or four others chased him to his room in the attempt to get it from him.

We left the scholar and his students earnestly poring over the books, and went out of the compound. By the banks of a sparkling brook we spread our luncheon, and while talking over the experiences of the day, a messenger arrived from the professor. He was instructed to say that the books were much appreciated, that it was most kind of us to bring them; and might he ask that we bring another instalment, especially the Commentary on the Classics? We assured the messenger that in two weeks or so books could be secured from Shanghai and would gladly be sent.

Two years ago some ladies who accompanied a party of gentlemen from Killing on a visit to the college were not allowed to enter the Confucian temple, and the gentlemen were required to remove their spectacles; but on our visit in August, 190-f, not only were our glasses allowed to remain before our eyes, but the ladies of our party were granted ready entrance to this holy of holies. The real difficulty was rather that things were too free and easy and the long robed but rather youthful students too pert, even from a Chinese point of view. Evidence was not wanting of the shiftlessness resulting from Chü Fu Tsz's provision of free tuition and support of each student. Had it cost them more to gain this classical learning, they might have been more diligent in its acquisition and more earnest in making it bear fruit in helpful service to their fellows.

Without a competent head or organized faculty, without a governing board or scarcely a janitor, the students are a law unto themselves. They bring their own furniture and cooking utensils and build little hearths for private use, or perhaps in clubs. The dilapidated condition of many sections of the buildings no doubt results from a lack of other ready fuel. Some parts of the roof are crushed in and weeds flourish in several rooms. Many of the memorial tablets have fallen down, and altogether the place has become nothing more than a sleepy and degenerate cloister, where about twenty students, free from the disturbances of home life and the new spirit of change spreading over the land, can better prosecute their antiquated studies. As typically representative of China's ancient educational system, the College of the White Deer Grotto has upon it the mildew of decline, while in many places throughout the empire schools of the newer learning under foreign and native auspices are preparing the alert of China's youth to lead in the strong and masterful civilization which she is destined to attain.

  1. There is a slight notice of this school and its refounder in Williams' 'Middle Kingdom,' and a fuller account is given in Mr. R. E. Lewis' 'Educational Conquest of the Far East' (New York, 1903), and in the 'East of Asia' (Shanghai, 1905). Vol. 3, No. 2, by Dr. Carl F. Kupfer. Although all these have been consulted and material freely drawn from them, the main source of the matter herewith presented was the trip which the writer made to the College in August, 1904, in company with a party of American friends, several of whom understood the Kiangsi dialect.
  2. See Popular Science Monthly, September.