Ports of the world - Canton/The River Pirates

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THE RIVER PIRATES

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HE cruise to Canton begins, in this instance, from the Harbor of Hongkong around the evening hour of ten, when the velvety blackness of the hot oriental night has settled around the traveler, making him feel a bit uncomfortable—as if he were shrouded in a thick, woolen blanket and confined in a warm room on a July day.

In the city of Victoria, resting on the rim of the harbor, there gleams a profusion of lights which silvers in places the mist hanging over the island. The lights are constantly flickering, some dying all of a sudden and others blazing forth where the fingers of night had been piling up dark shadows just a moment before.

A weird cry arises from the water front and is flung back by the multifold echoes. The cry comes from a group of men engaged in a dispute on one of the piers. The echo seems to startle them, for they run, bending low and glancing over their backs. The clump, clump of police boots is heard, and a thread of light from a flash-light travels through the gloom. A spurt of orange-colored flame and a staccato "crack-crack." Some one is being reckless.

A broad beam of light from a search-light on a warship, whose outlines are vaguely discernible in the distance, attracts the attention—since all men resemble moths, in that they are more or less fascinated by light. The warship flashes a signal to an invisible receiver. The flood of light is checked as suddenly as it was released. Points of reflected light glisten from the tops of small waves in the harbor. It's a question whether the light comes from the city or from the crescent moon which hangs from a wreath of clouds in the sky.

The voyage begins, and after crossing the harbor the river steamer is lost for a time in a tortuous channel wriggling in and around the maze of small islands between Hongkong and the mainland.

In about two hours' time the ancient Bogue fortresses come into view, and the
 

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Across Canton River

 

steamer soon finds itself in the brown waters of the Chukiang river — or the Pearl, or the Canton River, as it is sometimes called by foreigners. It is on the Chukiang River that the crews of passenger boats take all possible precautions against attack by Chinese pirates, who resemble criminals the world over, in that they are more prone to operate at night than in daytime. But the sun never renders the Chinese cousins of "Cap'n Flint" so timid as to keep them from attacking a steamship in broad daylight if the opportunity presents itself.

The local governments have found it impossible always to protect ships against the danger of assaults by river pirates; so the steamship companies, in self-defense, place armed guards on board the Canton boats. The guards are equipped with rifles, revolvers, and sometimes shotguns, which often serve to scare off, at long range, suspicious looking individuals. The value of life is not so great in this particular stretch of country as in the Occident, and the guards take no risks, preferring to shoot first and ask questions afterwards a course of action reminiscent of early days on the American frontiers.

The guards are on the alert, although no pirates have shown themselves on the river for weeks, and the possibility of a skirmish lends spice to what would otherwise be an uneventful trip. On either side of the muddy river are plantations devoted to the cultivation of rice and bananas, and at intervals little groups of houses come into view —shadowy through the dark curtain of night which has definitely fallen over the land.

The river pirates do not make themselves heard or seen on this particular trip: but the passengers, assured that it might well have happened otherwise, are told that fully 20,000 pirates live along the Chukiang River and in and near Canton. Occasionally the outside world hears of passengers and crew being murdered and a ship burned by the pirates on the Chukiang River; then all precautionary measures are redoubled.

Expeditions are sometimes sent out by the Government in search of river pirates. Upon the successful conclusions of such trips scores of the half-wild captives are executed. Sometimes the Government raiders are defeated, and the pirates, emboldened by their success, make further forays against steamships and drive, for a time, many of the smaller craft from the Hongkong-Canton river trade.

 

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Low-Caste Women in Rice Fields

 
There are three or four companies operating steamers between Hongkong and Canton, one of them being known as the British Line (the Hongkong and Macao Steamboat Company). Steamers
 

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River Boats Alive with Native Passengers

 

owned by this line—the Kinshan, Heungshan, Honan, and Faishan —leave Hongkong at 10 p.m., arriving in Canton at 6.30 o'clock in the morning.

Steamers from Hongkong to Canton and return are also operated by a Chinese company, whose rates are cheaper than the British company's. Its ships, the Kwangtung and the Kwangsai, are often patronized by tourists. These boats leave Hongkong at 9 p.m., arriving in Canton at 6.30 o'clock the next morning.

The traveler desiring to visit Canton by rail should board the train at Kowloon, the terminus of the Canton-Hankow Railroad. The line, built by the Chinese, was extended by the British, who plan eventually to make it a direct line to Paris.

 


SUNRISE IN CANTON

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AVING eluded the river pirates, the steamer makes rapid headway up the Chukiang River, and as the sky brushes the darkness from its face and the sun sends great streamers of crimson and purple light from behind the gray clouds massed on the eastern horizon, the outskirts of Canton come into view, and there is a rush of work on the deck as the passengers make ready to land, all thoughts