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BOY AND GIRL
ISAAC TAYLOR HEADLAND
OF PEKING UNIVERSITY
Author of Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes
No thorough study of Chinese child life can be made until
the wall of Chinese exclusiveness is broken down and the
homes of the East are thrown open to the people of the
West. Glimpses of that life however, are available, sufficient
in number and character to give a fairly good idea of
what it must be. The playground is by no means always
hidden, least of all when it is the street. The Chinese
nurse brings her Chinese rhymes, stories and games into
the foreigner's home for the amusement of its little ones.
Chinese kindergarten methods and appliances have no
superior in their ingenuity and their ability to interest, as
well as instruct. In the matter of travelling shows and
jugglers also, no country is better supplied, and these are
chiefly for the entertainment of the little ones.
To the careful observer of these different phases it
becomes apparent that the Chinese child is well supplied
with methods of exercise and amusement, also that he has
much in common with the children of other lands. A large
collection of toys shows many duplicates of those common
in the West, and from the nursery rhymes of at least two
out of the eighteen provinces it appears that the Chinese
nursery is rich in Mother Goose. As a companion to
the "Chinese Mother Goose," this book seeks to show
that the same sunlight fills the homes of both East and
West. If it also leads their far-away mates to look upon
the Chinese Boy and Girl as real little folk, human like
themselves, and thus think more kindly of them, its mission
will have been accomplished.
THE NURSERY AND ITS RHYMES
CHILDREN AND CHILD-LIFE
GAMES PLAYED BY BOYS
GAMES PLAYED BY GIRLS
THE TOYS CHILDREN PLAY WITH
CHILDREN'S SHOWS AND ENTERTAINMENTS
STORIES TOLD TO CHILDREN
THE NURSERY AND ITS RHYMES
It is a mistake to suppose that any one nation or people
has exclusive right to Mother Goose. She is an omnipresent
old lady. She is Asiatic as well as European or American.
Wherever there are mothers, grandmothers, and
nurses there are Mother Gooses,--or; shall we say, Mother
Geese--for I am at a loss as to how to pluralize this old
dame. She is in India, whence I have rhymes from her,
of which the following is a sample:
Heh, my baby! Ho, my baby!
See the wild, ripe plum,
And if you'd like to eat a few,
I'll buy my baby some.
She is in Japan. She has taught the children there to put
their fingers together as we do for "This is the church,
this is the steeple," when she says:
A bamboo road,
With a floor-mat siding,
Children are quarrelling,
And parents chiding,
the children" being represented by the fingers and the
"parents" by the thumbs. She is in China. I have more
than 600 rhymes from her Chinese collection. Let me tell
you how I got them.
One hot day during my summer vacation, while sitting
on the veranda of a house among the hills, fifteen miles
west of Peking, my friend, Mrs. C. H. Fenn, said to me:
"Have you noticed those rhymes, Mr. Headland?"
"What rhymes?" I inquired.
"The rhymes Mrs. Yin is repeating to Henry."
"No, I have not noticed them. Ask her to repeat that one again."
Mrs. Fenn did so, and the old nurse repeated the following rhyme,
very much in the tone of, "The goblins 'll git you if you don't
He climbed up the candlestick,
The little mousey brown,
To steal and eat tallow,
And he couldn't get down.
He called for his grandma,
But his grandma was in town,
So he doubled up into a wheel,
And rolled himself down.
I asked the nurse to repeat it again, more slowly, and I
wrote it down together with the translation.
Now, I think it must be admitted that there is more in
this rhyme to commend it to the public than there is in
"Jack and Jill." If when that remarkable young couple
went for the pail of water, Master Jack had carried it
himself, he would have been entitled to some credit for
gallantry, or if in cracking his crown he had fallen so as to
prevent Miss Jill from "tumbling," or even in such a way
as to break her fall and make it easier for her, there would
have been some reason for the popularity of such a record.
As it is, there is no way to account for it except the fact
that it is simple and rhythmic and children like it. This
rhyme, however, in the original, is equal to "Jack and Jill" in
rhythm and rhyme, has as good a story, exhibits a more scientific
tumble, with a less tragic result, and contains as good a moral
as that found in "Jack Sprat."
It is as popular all over North China as "Jack and Jill" is
throughout Great Britain and America. Ask any Chinese child if he
knows the "Little Mouse," and he reels it off to you as readily
as an English-speaking child does "Jack and Jill." Does he like
it? It is a part of his life. Repeat it to him, giving one word
incorrectly, and he will resent it as strenuously as your little
boy or girl would if you said,
Jack and Jill
Went DOWN the hill
Suppose you repeat some familiar rhyme to a child differently
from the way he learned it and see what the result will be.
Having obtained this rhyme, I asked Mrs. Yin if she
knew any more. She smiled and said she knew "lots of
them." I induced her to tell them to me, promising her
five hundred cash (about three cents) for every rhyme she
could give me, good, bad, or indifferent, for I wanted to
secure all kinds. And I did. Before I was through I had
rhymes which ranged from the two extremes of the keenest
parental affection to those of unrefined filthiness. The
latter class however came not from the nurses but from
the children themselves.
When I had finished with her I had a dozen or more. I
soon learned these so that I could repeat them in the original,
which gave me an entering wedge to the heart of every
man, woman or child I met.
One day, as I rode through a broom-corn field on the
back of a little donkey, my feet almost dragging on the
ground, I was repeating some of these rhymes, when the
driver running at my side said:
"Ha, you know those children's songs, do you?"
"Yes do you know any?"
"Lots of them," he answered.
"Lots of them" is a favorite expression with the Chinese.
"Tell me some."
"Did you ever hear this one?"
Come from the hill,
Your father and mother
Are waiting here still.
They've brought you some sugar,
Some candy, and meat,
For baby to eat."
I at once dismounted and wrote it down, and promised
him five hundred cash apiece for every new one he could
give me. In this way, going to and from the city, in
conversation with old nurses or servants, personal friends,
teachers, parents or children, or foreign children who had
been born in China and had learned rhymes from their
nurses, I continued to gather them during the entire
vacation, and when autumn came I had more than fifty of the
most common and consequently the best rhymes known
in and about Peking.
A few months after I returned to the city a circular was
sent around asking for subscriptions to a volume of Pekinese
Folklore, published by Baron Vitali, Interpreter at the
Italian legation, which, on examination, proved to be exactly
what I wanted. He had collected about two hundred and
fifty rhymes, had made a literal--not metrical--translation
and had issued them in book form without expurgation.
Others learned of my collection, and rhymes began to come
to me from all parts of the empire. Dr. Arthur H. Smith,
the well-known author of "Chinese Characteristics" gave
me a collection of more than three hundred made in Shantung,
among which were rhymes similar to those we had
found in Peking. Still later I received other versions of these
same rhymes from my little friend, Miss Chalfant, collected
in a different part of Shantung from that occupied by Dr.
Smith. I then had no fewer than five versions of
"This little pig went to market,"
each having some local coloring not found in the other,
proving that the fingers and toes furnish children with the
same entertainment in the Orient as in the Occident, and
that the rhyme is widely known throughout China.
These nursery rhymes have never been printed in the
Chinese language, but like our own Mother Goose before
the year 1719, if we may credit the Boston story, they are
carried in the minds and hearts of the children. Here arose
the first difficulty we experienced in collecting rhymes--the
matter of getting them complete. Few are able to repeat
the whole of the
"House that Jack built"
although it has been printed many times and they learned
it all in their youth. The difficulty is multiplied tenfold in
China where the rhymes have never been printed, and
where there have grown up various versions from one
original which the nurse had, no doubt, partly forgotten,
but was compelled to complete for the entertainment of the
A second difficulty in making such a collection is that of
getting unobjectionable rhymes. While the Chinese classics
are among the purest classical books of the world, there
is yet a large proportion of the people who sully everything
they take into their hands as well as every thought they take
into their minds. Thus so many of their rhymes have suffered.
Some have an undertone of reviling. Some speak
familiarly of subjects which we are not accustomed to
mention, and others are impure in the extreme.
A third difficulty in making a collection of Chinese nursery
lore is greater than either the first or the second,--I refer to
the difficulty of a metrical rendition of the rhymes. I have
no doubt my readers can easily find flaws in my translations
of Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes published during the past
year. It is much easier for me to find the flaws than the
remedies. Many of the words used in the original have no
written character or hieroglyphic to represent them, while
many others, though having a written form, are, like our
own slang expressions, not found in the dictionary.
Now let us turn to a more pleasant feature of this unwritten
nursery literature. The language is full of good rhymes,
and all objectionable features can be cut out without injury
to the rhyme, as it was not a part of the original, but added
by some more unscrupulous hand.
Among the nursery rhymes of all countries many refer to
insects, birds, animals, persons, actions, trades, food or
children. In Chinese rhymes we have the cricket, cicada,
spider, snail, firefly, ladybug and butterfly and others.
Among fowls we have the bat, crow, magpie, cock, hen,
duck and goose. Of animals, the dog, cow, horse, mule,
donkey, camel, and mouse, are the favorites. There are
also rhymes on the snake and frog, and others without
number on places, things and persons,--men, women and
Those who hold that the Chinese do not love their
children have never consulted their nursery lore. There is
no language in the world, I venture to believe, which
contains children's songs expressive of more keen and tender
affection than some of those sung to children in China.
When we hear a parent say that his child
"Is as sweet as sugar and cinnamon too,"
"Baby is a sweet pill,
That fills my soul with joy"
or when we see a father, mother or nurse--for nurses sometimes
become almost as fond of their little charge as the parents
themselves,--hugging the child to their bosoms as they say that
he is so sweet that "he makes you love him till it kills you," we
begin to appreciate the affection that prompts the utterance.
Another feature of these rhymes is the same as that found in the
nursery songs of all nations, namely, the food element. "Jack
Sprat," "Little Jacky Horner," "Four and Twenty Black-birds,"
"When Good King Arthur Ruled the Land," and a host of others will
indicate what I mean. A little child is a highly developed
stomach, and anything which tells about something that ministers
to the appetite and tends to satisfy that aching void, commends
itself to his literary taste, and hence the popularity of many
of our nursery rhymes, the only thought of which is about
something good to eat. Notice the following:
Look at the white breasted crows overhead.
My father shot once and ten crows tumbled dead.
When boiled or when fried they taste very good,
But skin them, I tell you, there's no better food.
In imagination I can see the reader raise his eyebrows and
mutter, "Do the Chinese eat crows?" while at the same time he has
been singing all his life about what a "dainty dish" "four and
twenty blackbirds" would make for the "king," without ever
raising the question as to whether blackbirds are good eating or
We note another feature of all nursery rhymes in the
additions made by the various persons through whose hands,
--or should we say, through whose mouths they pass.
When an American or English child hears how a certain
benevolent dame found no bone in her cupboard to satisfy
the cravings of her hungry dog, its feelings of compassion
are stirred up to ask: "And then what? Didn't she get
any meat? Did the dog die?" and the nurse is compelled
to make another verse to satisfy the curiosity of the child
and bring both the dame and the dog out of the dilemma in
which they have been left. This is what happened in the
case of "Old Mother Hubbard" as will readily be seen by
examining the meter of the various verses. The original
"Mother Hubbard" consisted of nothing more than the first
six lines which contain three rhymes. All the other verses
have but four lines and one rhyme.
We find the same thing in Chinese Mother Goose. Take the
following as an example:
He ate too much,
That second brother,
And when he had eaten his fill
He beat his mother.
This was the original rhyme. Two verses have been added without
rhyme, reason, rhythm, sense or good taste. They are as follows:
His mother jumped up on the window-sill,
But the window had no crack,
She then looked into the looking-glass,
But the mirror had no back.
Then all at once she began to sing,
But the song it had no end
And then she played the monkey trick
And to heaven she did ascend.
The moral teachings of nursery rhymes are as varied as
the morals of the people to whom the rhymes belong. The
"Little Mouse" already given contains both a warning and
a penalty. The mouse which had climbed up the candle-
stick to steal tallow was unable to get down. This was
the penalty for stealing, and indicates to children that if
they visit the cupboard in their mother's absence and take
her sweetmeats without her permission, they may suffer as
the mouse did. To leave the mouse there after he had
repeatedly called for that halo-crowned grandmother, who
refused to come, would have been too much for the child's
sympathies, and so the mouse doubles himself up into a
wheel, and rolls to the floor.
In other rhymes, children are warned against stealing, but
the penalty threatened is rather an indication of the
untruthfulness of the parent or nurse than a promise of reform in
the child, for they are told that,
If you steal a needle
Or steal a thread,
A pimple will grow
Upon your head.
If you steal a dog
Or steal a cat,
A pimple will grow
Beneath your hat.
Boys are warned of the dire consequences if they wear
their hats on the side of their heads or go about with ragged
coats or slipshod feet.
If you wear your hat on the side of your head,
You'll have a lazy wife, 'tis said.
If a ragged coat or slipshod feet,
You'll have a wife who loves to eat.
Those rhymes which manifest the affection of parents for
children cultivate a like affection in the child. We have in
the Chinese Mother Goose a rhyme called the Little Orphan,
which is a most pathetic tale. A little boy tells us that,
Like a little withered flower,
That is dying in the earth,
I was left alone at seven
By her who gave me birth.
With my papa I was happy
But I feared he'd take another,
But now my papa's married,
And I have a little brother.
And he eats good food,
While I eat poor,
And cry for my mother,
Whom I'll see no more.
Such a rhyme cannot but develop the pathetic and sympathetic
instincts of the child, making it more kind and gentle
to those in distress.
A girl in one of the rhymes urged by instinct and desire to chase
a butterfly, gives up the idea of catching it, presumably
out of a feeling of sympathy for the insect.
Unfortunately all their rhymes do not have this same
high moral tone. They indicate a total lack of respect for the
Buddhist priests. This is not necessarily against the rhyme
any more than against the priest, but it is an unfortunate
disposition to cultivate in children. There are constant
sallies at the shaved noddle of the priest. They speak of
his head as a gourd, and they class him with the tiger as a
beast of prey.
Some of the rhymes illustrate the disposition of the Chinese to
nickname every one, from the highest official in the empire to
the meanest beggar on the street. One of the great men of the
present dynasty, a prime minister and intimate friend of the
emperor, goes by the name of Humpbacked Liu. Another may be
Cross-eyed Wang, another Club-footed Chang, another Bald-headed
Li. Any physical deformity or mental peculiarity may give him his
nickname. Even foreigners suffer in reputation from this national
A man whose face is covered with pockmarks is ridiculed by
children in the following rhyme, which is only a sample of what
might be produced on a score of other subjects:
Old pockmarked Ma,
He climbed up a tree,
A dog barked at him,
And a man caught his knee,
Which scared old Poxey
Until he couldn't see.
A well-known characteristic of the Chinese is to do things
opposite to the way in which we do them. We accuse
them of doing things backwards, but it is we who deserve
such blame because they antedated us in the doing of them.
We shake each other's hands, they each shake their own
hands. We take off our hats as a mark of respect, they
keep theirs on. We wear black for mourning, they wear
white. We wear our vests inside, they wear theirs outside.
A hundred other things more or less familiar to us all,
illustrate this rule. In some of their nursery rhymes everything
is said and done on the "cart before the horse" plan.
This is illustrated by a rhyme in which when the speaker
heard a disturbance outside his door he discovered it was
because a "dog had been bitten by a man." Of course,
he at once rushed to the rescue. He "took up the door
and he opened his hand." He "snatched up the dog and
threw him at a brick." The brick bit his hand and he left
the scene "beating on a horn and blowing on a drum."
Tongue twisters are as common in Chinese as in English, and are
equally appreciated by the children. From the nature of such
rhymes, however, it is impossible to translate them into any
In one of these children's songs, a cake-seller informs the
public in stentorian tones that his wares will restore sight to
the blind and that
They cure the deaf and heal the lame,
And preserve the teeth of the aged dame.
They will further cause hair to grow on a bald head and
give courage to a henpecked husband. A girl who has been
whipped by her mother mutters to herself how she would
love and serve a husband if she only had one, even going to
the extent of calling that much-despised mother-in-law her
mother, and when overheard by her irate parent and asked
what she was saying, she answers:
I was saying the beans are boiling nice
And it's just about time to add the rice.
These are rather an indication of good cheer on the part
of the children than lack of filial affection. A parent must
be cruel indeed to make a girl willing to give up her mother
for a mother-in-law.
Another style of verses comes under the head of pure nonsense
rhymes. They are wholly without sense and I am not sure they are
good nonsense. They are popular, however, with the children, and
critics may say what they will, but the children are the last
court of appeal in case of nursery rhymes. Let me give one:
There's a cow on the mountain, the old saying goes,
On her legs are four feet, on her feet are eight toes.
Her tail is behind on the end of her back,
And her head is in front on the end of her neck.
The Chinese nursery is well provided with rhymes
pertaining to certain portions of the body. They have rhymes
to repeat when they play with the five fingers, and others
when they pull the toes; rhymes when they take hold of
the knee and expect the child to refrain from laughing, no
matter how much its knee is tickled; rhymes which correspond
to all our face and sense; rhymes where the forehead
represents the door and the five senses various other
things, ending, of course, by tickling the child's neck.
All of these have called forth rhymes among Chinese
children similar to "little pig went to market," "forehead
bender, eye winker," etc. The parent, or the nurse, taking
hold of the toes of the child, repeats the following rhyme,
as much to the amusement of the little Oriental as the
"little pig" has always been to our own children:
This little cow eats grass,
This little cow eats hay,
This little cow drinks water,
This little cow runs away,
This little cow does nothing,
Except lie down all day.
We'll whip her.
And, with that, she playfully pats the little bare foot. If it is
the hand that is played with the fingers are taken hold of one
after another, as the parent, or nurse, repeats the following
This one's old,
This one's young
This one has
This one's gone
To buy some hay,
And this one's on
There are various forms of this rhyme, depending upon
the place where it is found. The above is the Shantung
version. In Peking it is as follows:
A great, big brother,
And a little brother,
A big bell tower,
And a temple and a
And little baby
Always wants to
The following rhyme explains itself: The nurse knocks on the
forehead, then touches the eye, nose, ear, mouth and chin
successively, as she repeats:
Knock at the door,
See a face,
Smell an odor,
Hear a voice,
Eat your dinner,
Pull your chin, or
Ke chih, ke chih.
Tickling the child's neck with the last two expressions.
We have in English a rhyme:
If you be a gentleman,
As I suppose you be,
You'll neither laugh nor smile
With a tickling of your knee.
I had tried many months to find if there were any finger,
face or body games other than those already given. Our own nurse
insisted that she knew of none, but one day I noticed her
grabbing my little girl's knee, while she was saying:
One grab silver,
Two grabs gold,
Three don't laugh,
And you'll grow old.
There is no literature in China, not even in the sacred
books, which is so generally known as their nursery
rhymes. These are understood and repeated by the educated
and the illiterate alike; by the children of princes and
the children of beggars; children in the city and children in
the country and villages, and they produce like results in
the minds and hearts of all. The little folks laugh over the
Cow, look sober over the Little Orphan, absorb the morals
taught by the Mouse, and are sung to sleep by the song of
the Little Snail.
Sometimes however they, like children in other lands, are
skeptical as to the reality of the stories told in the songs.
Thus I remember once hearing our old nurse telling a number
of stories and singing a number of songs to the little folk in
the nursery. They had accepted one after another
the legends as they rolled off the old woman's tongue,
without question, but pretty soon she gave them a version
of a Wind Song which aroused their incredulity. She sang:
Old grandmother Wind has come from the East.
She's ridden a donkey--a dear little beast.
Old mother-in-law Rain has come back again.
She's come from the North on a horse, it is plain.
Old grandmother Snow is coming you know,
From the West on a crane--just see how they go.
And old aunty Lightning has come from the South,
On a big yellow dog with a bit in his mouth.
"There is no grandmother Wind, is there, nurse?"
"No, of course not, people only call her grandmother Wind."
"Why do they call the other mother-in-law Rain?"
"I suppose, because mothers-in-law are often disagreeable,
just like rainy weather."
"And why do they speak of snow and the crane, and lightning and a
"I suppose, because a crane is somewhat the color of snow, and a
yellow dog swift and the color of lightning."
CHILDREN AND CHILD-LIFE
Before going to China, I could not but wonder, when I
saw a Chinese or Japanese doll, why it was they made such
unnatural looking things for babies to play with. On reaching
the Orient the whole matter was explained by my first
sight of a baby. The doll looks like the child!
Nothing in China is more common than babies. Nothing
more helpless. Nothing more troublesome. Nothing more
attractive. Nothing more interesting.
A Chinese baby is a round-faced little helpless human
animal, whose eyes look like two black marbles over which
the skin had been stretched, and a slit made on the bias.
His nose is a little kopje in the centre of his face, above a
yawning chasm which requires constant filling to insure the
preservation of law and order. On his shaved head are left
small tufts of hair in various localities, which give him the
appearance of the plain about Peking, on which the traveler
sees, here and there, a small clump of trees around a country
village, a home, or a cemetery; the remainder of the country
being bare. These tufts are usually on the "soft spot," in the
back of his neck, over his ears, or in a braid or a ring on the
side of his head.
The amount of joy brought to a home by the birth of a child
depends upon several important considerations, chief among which
are its sex, the number and sex of those already in the family,
and the financial condition of the home.
In general the Chinese prefer a preponderance of boys, but in
case the family are in good circumstances and already have
several boys, they are as anxious for a girl as parents in any
The reason for this is deeper than the mere fact of sex.
It is imbedded in the social life and customs of the people.
A girl remains at home until she is sixteen or seventeen,
during which time she is little more than an expense. She
is then taken to her husband's home and her own family
have no further control over her life or conduct. She
loses her identity with her own family, and becomes part
of that of her husband. This through many years and
centuries has generated in the popular mind a feeling that
it is "bad business raising girls for other people," and
there are not a few parents who would prefer to bring up
the girl betrothed to their son, rather than bring up their
"Selfishness!" some people exclaim when they read such
things about the Chinese. Yes, it is selfishness; but life
in China is not like ours--a struggle for luxuries--but a
struggle, not for bread and rice as many suppose, but for
cornmeal and cabbage, or something else not more palatable.
This is the life to which most Chinese children are
born, and parents can scarcely be blamed for preferring
boys whose hands may help provide for their mouths, to
girls who are only an expense.
The presumption is that a Chinese child is born with the
same general disposition as children in other countries.
This may perhaps be the case; but either from the treatment
it receives from parents or nurses, or because of the
disposition it inherits, its nature soon becomes changed,
and it develops certain characteristics peculiar to the
Chinese child. It becomes t'ao ch'i. That almost means
mischievous; it almost means troublesome--a little tartar--
but it means exactly t'ao ch'i.
In this respect almost every Chinese child is a little tyrant.
Father, mother, uncles, aunts, and grandparents are all made
to do his bidding. In case any of them seems to be recalcitrant,
the little dear lies down on his baby back on the
dusty ground and kicks and screams until the refractory
parent or nurse has repented and succumbed, when he get
up and good-naturedly goes on with his play and allows
them to go about their business. The child is t'ao ch'i.
This disposition is general and not confined to any one
rank or grade in society, if we may credit the stories that come
from the palace regarding the present young Emperor
Kuang Hsu. When a boy he very much preferred foreign
to Chinese toys, and so the eunuchs stocked the palace
nursery with all the most wonderful toys the ingenuity and
mechanical skill of Europe had produced. As he grew
older the toys became more complicated, being in the form
of gramophones, graphophones, telephones, phonographs,
electric lights, electric cars, cuckoo clocks, Swiss watches
and indeed all the great inventions of modern times. The
boy was t'ao ch'i, and the eunuchs say that if he were
thwarted in any of his undertakings, or denied anything he
very much desired, he would dash a Swiss watch, or anything
else he might have in his hand, to the floor, breaking
it into atoms; and as there was no chance of using the rod
there was no way but to spoil the child.
It is amusing to listen to the women in a Chinese home
when a baby comes. If the child is a boy the parents are
congratulated on every hand because of the "great happiness"
that has come to their home. If it is a girl, and there
are more girls than boys in the family, the old nurse goes
about as if she had stolen it from somewhere, and when she
is congratulated, if congratulated she happens to be, she
says with a sigh and a funereal face, "Only a 'small happiness'--
but that isn't bad."
When a child is born it is considered one year old, and its years
are reckoned not from its birthdays but from its New Year's days.
If it has the good fortune to be born the day before two days old
it is reckoned two years old being one year old when born and two
years old on its first New Year's day.
The first great event in a child's life occurs when it is
one month old. It is then given its first public reception.
Its head is shaved amid kicking and screaming, its mother is up
and around where she can receive the congratulations of her
friends, its grandmother is the honored guest of the occasion,
andthe baby is named.
All the relatives and friends are invited and every one is
expected to take dinner with the child, and, which is more
important, to bring presents. If the family is poor, this day
puts into the treasury of life a day of happiness and a goodly
amount of filthy lucre. If the family is rich the presents are
correspondingly rich, for nowhere either in Orient or Occident
can there be found a people more lavish and generous
in their gifts than the Chinese. All the family can afford
is spent upon the dinner given on this occasion, with the
assurance that they will receive in presents and money
more than double the expense both of the dinner and the
birth of the child. If they do not "come" they are expected
to "send" or they "lose face." Among the middle-class, the
presents are of a useful nature, usually in the form of money,
clothing or silver ornaments which are always worth their weight
The name given the child is called its "milk" name until the boy
enters school. Whether boy or girl it may answer a good part of
its life to the place it occupies in the family whether first,
second or third.
If a girl she may be compelled to answer to "Little Slave," and
if a boy to "Baldhead." But the names usually given indicate the
place or time of birth, the hope of the parent for the child, or
exhibit the parent's love of beauty or euphony.
A friend who was educated in a school situated in Filial
Piety Lane and who afterwards lived near Filial Piety Gate
called his first son "Two Filials." Another friend had sons
whose names were "Have a Man," "Have a Mountain,"
"Have a Garden," "Have a Fish." In conversation with
this friend about the son whose "milk" name was "Have
a Man," I constantly spoke of the boy by his "school"
name, the only name by which I knew him. The old man
was perfectly blank--he knew not of whom I spoke, as he
had not seen his son since he got his school name. Finally,
as it began to dawn on him that I was talking of his son, he
"Whom are you talking about?"
"Oh, you mean 'Have a Man.' "
This same man had a little girl called "Apple," not an
ordinary apple, but the most luscious apple known to North
China. I have as I write a list of names commonly applied
to girls from which I select the following: Beautiful
Autumn, Charming Flower, Jade Pure, Lucky Pearl, Precious
Harp, Covet Spring; and the parent's way of speaking of
his little girl, when not wishing to be self-depreciative, is to
call her his "Thousand ounces of gold."
The names given to boys are quite as humiliating or as
elevating as those given to girls. He may be Number One,
Two or Three, Pig, Dog or Flea, or he may be like Wu
T'ing Fang a "Fragrant Palace," or like Li Hung Chang, an
"Illustrious Bird" or "Learned Treatise."
During the summer-time in North China the child goes
almost if not completely naked. Until it is five years old,
its wardrobe consists largely of a chest-protector and a pair
of shoes. In the winter-time its trousers are quilted, with
feet attached, its coat made in the same way, and it is
anything but "clean and sweet." The odor is not unlike that
of an up-stairs back room in a narrow alley at Five Points,
in which dwell a whole family of emigrants.
When the Chinese child is ill he does not have the same
kind of hospital accommodations, nursing and medical skill
at his command as do we in the West. His bed is brick,
his pillow stuffed with bran or grass-seed, he has no sheets,
his food is coarse and ill-adapted to a sick child's stomach.
While his nurse may be kind, gentle and loving she is not
always skillful, and as for the ability of his physician let the
following child's song tell us:
My wife's little daughter once fell very ill,
And we called for a doctor to give her a pill.
He wrote a prescription which now we will give her,
In which he has ordered a mosquito's liver.
And then in addition the heart of a flea,
And half pound of fly-wings to make her some tea.
When the child begins to walk and talk it begins to be
interesting. Its father has a little push cart made by which
it learns to walk, and the nurse goes about the court with
it repeating ba ba, ma ma, (notice that these words for papa
and mama are practically the same in Chinese as in English,
the b being substituted for p), and all the various words
which mean elder brother, younger brother, elder and
younger sisters, uncles, aunts, grandfathers, grandmothers,
and cousins and all the various relatives which may be
found in its family, village or home.
It is not an easy matter to learn the names of one's
relatives in China, as there is a separate name for each showing
whether the person whom we call uncle is father or
mother's elder or younger brother or the husband of their
elder or younger sister. When it comes to learning the
names of all one's cousins it is quite a difficult affair.
Suppose, for instance, you were to introduce me to your cousin,
and I wanted to know which one, you might explain that
he is the son of your mother's elder brother. In China the
word you used for cousin would express the exact idea.
The child begins his study of language by learning all these
These are for the most part taught them by the nurse,
who is an important element in the Chinese home and a
useful adjunct to the child. Each little girl in the homes of
the better classes has her own particular nurse, who teaches
her nursery songs in her childhood, is her companion during
her youth, goes with her to her husband's home, when she
marries presumably to prevent her becoming lonesome, and remains
with her through life. In conversation with the
granddaughters of a duke and their old nurse, I discovered
that the same games the little children play upon the street,
they play in the seclusion of their green-tiled palace, and the
same nursery songs that entice Morpheus to share the mat
shed of the beggar's boy, entice him also to share the silken
couch of the emperor in the palace.
When a boy is old enough, he grows a queue, which takes
the place in the life of the Chinese boy which his first pair of
trousers does in that of the American or English boy. It is
one of the first things he lives for; and he should not be
despised for wearing his hair in this fashion, especially when
we remember that George Washington and Lafayette and
their contemporaries wore their hair in a braid down their
Besides the queue has a great variety of uses. It serves
him in some of the games he plays. When I saw the boys
in geometry use their queues to strike an arc or draw a circle,
it reminded me of my college days when I had forgotten to
take a string to class. The laborer spreads a handkerchief
or towel over his head, wraps his queue around it and
makes for himself a hat. The cart driver whips his mule
with it; the beggar uses it to scare away the dogs; the
father takes hold of his little boy's queue instead of his hand
when walking with him on the street, or the child follows
holding to his father's queue, and the boys use it as reins
when they play horse. I saw this amusingly illustrated on
the streets of Peking. Two boys were playing horse.
Now I have always noticed that when a boy plays horse, it
is not because he has any desire to be the horse, but the
driver. He is willing to be horse for a time, in order that he
may be allowed to be driver for a still longer time. A large
boy was playing horse with a smaller one, the latter acting
as the beast of burden. This continued for some time, when the
smaller, either discovering that a horse is larger than a man, or
that it is more noble to be a man than a horse, balked, and said:
"Now you be horse."
The older was not yet inclined to be horse, and tried in
vain, by coaxing, scolding and whipping, to induce him to
move, but the horse was firm. The driver was also firm, and not
until the horse in a very unhorselike manner, gave away to tears,
could the man be induced to let himself down to the level of a
horse. From all of which it will be seen that the disposition of
Chinese children is no exception to that longing for superiority
which prevails in every human heart.
All kinds of trades, professions, and employments have
as great attraction for Chinese as for American children. A
country boy looks forward to the time when he can stand
up in the cart and drive the team. Children seeing a
battalion of soldiers at once "organize a company." This
was amusingly illustrated by a group of children in Peking
during the Chinese-Japanese war. Each had a stick or a
weed for a gun, except the drummer-boy, who was provided
with an empty fruit-can. They went through various
maneuvres, for practice, no doubt, and all seemed to be going on
beautifully until one of those in front shouted,
in a voice filled with fear:
"The Japanese are coming, the Japanese are coming."
This was the signal for a general retreat, and the children,
in imitation of the army then in the field, retreated in
disorder and dismay in every direction.
The Chinese boys and girls are little men and women. At an early
age they are familiar with all the rules of behaviour which
characterize their after life and conduct. Their clothes are cut
on the same pattern, out of cloth as those of their parents and
grandparents. There are no kilts and knee-breeches, pinafores and
short skirts, to make them feel that they are little people.
But they are little people as really and truly as are the
children of other countries. A gentleman in reviewing my
"Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes" speaks of some of the
illustrations which "present the Chinese children playing
their sober little games." Why we should call such a game
as "blind man's buff," "e-ni-me-ni-mi-ni-mo," "this little
pig went to market" or "pat-a-cake" "sober little games,"
unless it is because of preconceived notions of the Chinese
people I do not understand. The children are dignified little
people, but they enjoy all the attractions of child-life as
much as other children do.
It is a mistake to suppose that the life of Chinese children
is a doleful one. It is understood, of course, that their life
is not the same, nor to be compared with that of children
in Europe or America: and it should be remembered further
that the pleasures of child-life are not measured by the
gratification of every childish whim. Many of the little
street children who spend a large part of their time in
efforts to support the family, when allowed to go to a fair
or have a public holiday enjoy themselves more in a single
day than the child of wealth, in a whole month of idleness.
In addition to his games and rhymes, the fairs which are
held regularly in the great Buddhist temples in different
parts of the cities, are to the Chinese boy what a country
fair, a circus or Fourth of July is to an American farmer's
boy or girl. He has his cash for candy or fruit, his crackers
which he fires off at New Year's time, making day a time
of unrest, and night hideous. Kite-flying is a pleasure
which no American boy appreciates as does the Chinese, a
pleasure which clings to him till he is three-score years and
ten, for it is not uncommon to find a child and his grandfather
in the balmy days of spring flying their kites together.
He has his pet birds which he carries around in cages or on
a perch unlike any other child we have ever seen. He has
his crickets with which he amuses himself--not "gambles"
--and his gold fish which bring him days and years of
delight. Indeed the Chinese child, though in the vast
majority of cases very poor, has ample provision for a very
good time, and if he does not have it, it must be his own
Statements about the life of the children, however, may
be nothing more than personal impressions, and are usually
colored as largely by the writer's prejudices as by the
conditions of the children. Some of us are so constituted as to
see the dark side of the picture, others the bright. Let us
go with the boys and girls to their games. Let us play
with their toys and be entertained by the shows that entertain
them, and see if they are not of the same flesh and
blood, heart and sentiment as we. We shall find that the
boys and girls live together, work together, study together,
play together, have their heads shaved alike and quarrel
with each other until they are seven years old, the period
which brings to an end the life of the Chinese child. From
this period it is the boy or the girl.
GAMES PLAYED BY BOYS
Children's games are always interesting. Chinese games
are especially so because they are a mine hitherto
unexplored. An eminent archdeacon once wrote: "The Chinese
are not much given to athletic exercises." A well-known
doctor of divinity states that, "their sports do not require
much physical exertion, nor do they often pair off, or choose
sides and compete, in order to see who are the best
players," while a still more prominent writer tells us that,
"active, manly sports are not popular in the South." Let us
see whether these opinions are true.
Two years ago a letter from Dr. Luther Gulick, at present
connected with the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, N. Y., came to
us while in Peking, asking that we study into the character
of Chinese children's games. Dr. Gulick was preparing a
series of lectures on the "Psychology of Play." He desired
to secure as much reliable information as possible regarding
the play-life of the children of the East, in order that he
might discover what relation exists between the games of
Oriental and those of Occidental children. By so doing he
would learn the effect of play on the mental and physical
development as well as the character of children, and
through them upon the human race as a whole. We were
fortunate in having at our disposal a large number of
students connected with Peking University, the preparatory,
intermediate and primary schools, together with 150 girls in
attendance at the girls' high school.
We received the letter at four o'clock, at which time the
students had just been dismissed from school, and were taking
their afternoon meal, but at 4:30 we went to the playground,
notebook in hand, called together some of our most interesting
boys, explained to them our object, and asked them to play for
us. Some one may say that this was the worst possible thing to
do, as it would make the children self-conscious and hence
unnatural--the sequel, however, will show.
At first that was exactly what happened. The children
tittered, and looked at each other in blank astonishment,
then one of them walked away and several others gathered
about us. We repeated our explanation in order to secure
their interest, set their minds to work thinking up games,
and do away with the embarrassment, and it was only a
few minutes before an intelligent expression began to appear
in the eyes of some of the boys, and one of them, who was
always ready for anything new, turned to his companion and said:
"You go and find Chi, and bring him here."
"Who is Chi?" we inquired.
"He is the boy who knows more games than any of the rest of us,"
Away he ran and soon reappeared with a very unpromising
looking boy whom we recognized as a street waif that had been
taken into what some one called our "raggedy school" a few years
before. He was a glum looking boy--a boy without a smile. There
was a set expression on his face which might be interpreted as
"life is not worth living," or, which would be an equally
legitimate interpretation in the present instance, "these games
are of no importance. If you want them we can play any number of
them for you, but what will you do with them after you get them?"
All the crowd began at once to explain to Chi what we wanted,
and he looked more solemn than ever, then we came to his rescue.
"Chi," we asked, "what kind of games do boys play?"
Slowly and solemnly Chi wound one leg around the other as he
"Lots of them."
This is the stereotyped answer that will come from any
Chinaman to almost any question he may be asked about
"For instance?" we further inquired.
"Forcing the city gates," he answered.
"Play it for me."
The boys at once appointed captains who chose sides
and they formed themselves into two lines facing each
other, those of each line taking fast hold of each other's
hands. The boys on one side then sang:
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And hurried to the town
And children met him with a horse
For the gates were broken down.
Then one from the other side ran with all his force,
throwing himself upon the hands of the boys who had
sung, the object being to "break through," in which case
he took the two whose hands had been parted to "his
side," while if he failed to break through he had to remain
on their side. The others then sang. One from this group
tried to break through their line, and thus they alternated
until one side or the other was broken up.
The boys were panting and red in the face when the
game was over, a strong argument against the Chinese-are-
"Now play something which does not require so much
exercise," we requested.
Every one looked at Chi, not that the other boys did not
know the games, but simply because this matter-of-fact
boy was their natural leader in this kind of sport.
"Blind man," he said quietly.
At once a handkerchief was tied around the eyes of one of the
boys who was willing to be "blind man," and a game corresponding
almost exactly to our own "blind man's buff" was played, without
the remotest embarrassment, but with as much naturalness as
though neither teacher nor spectator was near them.
"Have you any other games which require strength?"
"Man-wheel," said Chi in his monosyllabic way.
"Play it, please."
"Go and call Wei-Yuan," to one of the smaller boys.
The boy ran off to find the one indicated, and Chi
selected two other middle-sized and two small boys.
When Wei-Yuan, a larger but very good-natured, kindly-
dispositioned lad, came, the two middle-sized boys stood
beside him, one facing north, the other south, and caught
each other's hand over Wei-Yuan's shoulder. The two
smaller boys then stood beside these two, each of whom
clutched hold of the small boys' girdles, who in turn
clutched their girdles and Wei-Yuan took their disengaged
hands. Thus the five boys were firmly bound together.
The wheel then began to turn, the small boys were gradually
lifted from the ground and swung or whirled around
in an almost horizontal position.
"This game requires more strength," Chi explained, "than any
other small boys' game."
"Have you any games more vigorous than this?"
"Pitching the stone lock, and lifting the stone dumb-bells, but
they are for men."
"What is that game you were playing a few days ago in
which you used one stick to knock another?"
"One is striking the stick, and another is knocking the stick."
"Play one of them."
Chi drew two lines on the ground eight feet apart, on one
of which he put a stick. He then threw another stick at it,
the object being to drive it over the other line. He who
first succeeds in driving it over the line wins the game.
The sticks are ten to fifteen inches long.
Striking the stick is similar to tip-cat which we have
often seen played by boys on the streets of New York. The
children mark out a square five or six feet on each side.
The striker takes a position inside, with his feet spread apart
as wide as possible, to give him a better command of the
square. One of the others places the block in the position
which he supposes will be most difficult for the striker to
hit. The latter is then at liberty to twist around on one
foot, placing the other outside the square, in order if possible
to secure a position from which he can strike to advantage.
He then throws a stick about fifteen inches long at
the block to drive it out of the square. If he fails, the one
who placed the block takes the stick, and another places the
block for him. If he succeeds he has the privilege of striking
the block three times as follows: He first strikes it
perpendicularly, which causes it to bound up two or three feet,
when he hits it as one would hit a ball, driving it as far as
possible. This he repeats three times, and if he succeeds
in driving it the distance agreed upon, which may be 20,
50, 200, 300, 500 or more feet, he wins the game. If not
he brings back the block and tries again, continuing
to strike until he fails to drive it out of the square. This
game develops ingenuity in placing the block and skill,
in striking, and is one of the most popular of all boys'
When they had finished striking the stick one of the
smaller children went over to where Chi was standing and
whispered in his ear. The expression of his face remained
as unchangeable as that of a stone image, as he called out:
The boys danced about in high glee, selected two captains
who chose sides, and they all squatted down in two rows
twenty feet apart. Each boy was given the name of some
kind of fruit, such as apples, pears, peaches, quinces or
plums, all of which are common about Peking. The captain
on one side then blindfolded one of his boys, while
one from the other group arose and stealthily walked over
and touched him, returning to his place among his own
group and taking as nearly as possible the position he had
when the other was blindfolded. In case his companions
are uncertain as to whether his position is exactly the same,
they all change their position, in order to prevent the one
blindfolded from guessing who it was who left his place.
The covering was then removed from his eyes, he went
over to the other side, examined carefully if perchance he
might discover, from change of position, discomfort in
squatting, or a trace of guilt in the face or eyes of any of
them, a clue to the guilty party. He "made faces" to try
to cause the guilty one to laugh. He gesticulated, grimaced,
did everything he could think of, but they looked blank and
unconcerned, or all laughed together, allowing no telltale look
to appear on their faces. His pantomimes sometimes
brought out the guilty one, but in case they did not, his last
resort was to risk a guess, and so he made his selection. If he
was right he took the boy to his side; if wrong, he stayed
on their side. One of their side was then blindfolded,
and the whole was repeated until one group or the other lost all
its men. The game is popular among girls as well as boys.
"Do you have any other guessing games?" we asked Chi.
"Yes, there is point at the moon or the stars," he answered, "and
blind man is also a guessing game."
By this time the boys had become enthusiastic, and had entirely
forgotten that they were playing for us or indeed for any
purpose. It was a new experience, this having their games taken
in a notebook, and each was anxious not only that he play well,
but that no mistake be made by any one. The more Chi realized the
importance of playing the games properly the more solemn he
became, if indeed it were possible to be more solemn than was his
normal condition. He now changed to a game of an entirely
different character from those already played. Those developed
strength, skill or curiosity; this developed quick reaction in
"What shall we play?" inquired one of the boys.
"Queue," answered Chi.
Immediately every boy jerked his queue over his shoulder
and began to edge away from his companions. But as he
walked away from one he drew near another, and a sudden
calling of his name would so surprise him that in turning
his head to see who spoke his short queue would be jerked
back over his shoulder and he received a dozen slaps from
his companions, all of whom were waiting for just such an
opportunity. This is the object of the game--to catch a
boy with his queue down his back. Some of the boys, more
spry than others, would move away to a distance, and then as
though all unconsciously, allow their queue to hang down
the back in its natural position, depending upon their fleetness
or their agility in getting out of the way or bringing the
queue around in front. This game is peculiarly interesting
and caused much hilarity. At times even the solemn face
of Chi relaxed into a smile.
"Honor," called out Chi, and as in the circus when the
ringmaster cracks his whip, everything changed. The boys
each hooked the first finger of his right hand with that of
his companion and then pulled until their fingers broke
apart, when they each uttered the word "Honor." This
must not be spoken before they broke apart, but as soon as
possible after, and he who was first heard was entitled to
an obeisance on the part of the other. Those who failed
the first trial sat down, and those who succeeded paired off
and pulled once more, and so on until only one was left,
who, as in the spelling-bees of our boyhood days, became
the hero of the hour.
Chi, however, was not making heroes, or was it that he
did not want to hurt the feelings of those who were less
agile; at any rate he called out "Hockey," and the boys at
once snatched up their short sticks and began playing at a
game that is not unlike our American "shinny," a game
which is so familiar to every American boy as to make
description unnecessary--the principal difference between
this and the American game being that the boys all try to
prevent one boy from putting a ball into what they call the
big hole, which, like the others, tended to develop quickness
of action in the boys.
I was familiar with the fact that there are certain games
which tend to develop the parental or protective instinct in
children, while certain others develop the combative and
destructive, as for instance playing with dolls develops the
mother-instinct in girls; tea-parties, the love of society; and
paper dolls teach them how to arrange the furniture in their
houses; while on the other hand, wrestling, boxing, sparring,
battles, and all such amusements if constantly engaged in by
boys, tend to make them, if properly guided and instructed, brave
and patriotic; but if not properly led, cause them to be
quarrelsome, domineering, cruel, coarse and rough, and I wondered
if the Chinese boys had any such games.
"Chi," I asked, "do you have any such games as host and guest, or
games in which the large boys protect the small ones?"
"Host and guest," said Chi.
The boys at once arranged themselves promiscuously over
the playground, and with a few peanuts, or sour dates
which they picked up under the date trees, with all the
ceremony of their race, they invited the others to dine with
them. After playing thus for a moment, Chi called out:
"Roast dog meat."
The children gathered in a group, put the palms of their
hands together, squatted in a bunch or ring, and placed their
hands together in the centre to represent the pot. The boy
on the left of the illustration represents Mrs. Wang, the
guest of the occasion, while Chi himself stands on the right
with his hand on the head of one of the boys. Chi walked
around the ring while he sang:
Roast, roast, roast dog meat,
The second pot smells bad,
The little pot is sweet,
Come, Mrs. Wang, please,
And eat dog meat.
He then invited Mrs. Wang to come and partake of a dinner
of dog meat with him, and the following conversation
I cannot walk.
I'll hire a cart for you.
I'm afraid of the bumping.
I'll hire a sedan chair for you.
I'm afraid of the jolting.
I'll hire a donkey for you.
I'm afraid of falling off.
I'll carry you.
I have no clothes.
I'll borrow some for you.
I have no hair ornaments.
I'll make some for you.
I have no shoes.
I'll buy some for you.
This conversation may be carried on to any length,
according to the fertility of the minds of the children, the
excuses of Mrs. Wang at times being very ludicrous. All
these, however, being met, the host carries her off on his
back to partake of the dainties of a dog meat feast.
"What were you playing a few days ago when all the boys lay in a
"Skin the snake."
The boys danced for glee. This was one of their favorite games.
They all stood in line one behind the other. They bent
forward, and each put one hand between his legs and thus
grasped the disengaged hand of the boy behind him.
Then they began backing. The one in the rear lay down
and they backed over astride of him, each lying down as he
backed over the one next behind him with the other's head
between his legs and his head between the legs of his
neighbor, keeping fast hold of hands. They were thus
lying in a straight line.
The last one that lay down then got up, and as he walked
astride the line raised each one after him until all were up,
when they let go hands, stood straight, and the game was
"Have you any other games which develop the protective instinct
in boys?" we inquired of Chi.
"The hawk catching the young chicks," said the matter-of-fact
boy, answering my question and directing the boys at the same
The children selected one of their number to represent the
hawk and another the hen, the latter being one of the largest
and best natured of the group, and one to whom the small
boys naturally looked for protection.
They formed a line with the mother hen in front, each
clutching fast hold of the others' clothing, with a large active
boy at the end of the line.
The hawk then came to catch the chicks, but the mother
hen spread her wings and moved from side to side keeping
between the hawk and the brood, while at the same time
the line swayed from side to side always in the opposite
direction from that in which the hawk was going. Every
chick caught by the hawk was taken out of the line until
they were all gone.
One of the boys whispered something to Chi.
"Strike the poles," exclaimed the latter.
As soon as they began playing we recognized it as a game we had
The boys stood about four feet apart, each having a stick four or
five feet long which he grasped near the middle. As they repeated
the following rhyme in concert they struck alternately the upper
and lower ends of the sticks together, occasionally half
inverting them and thus striking the upper ends together in an
underhand way. They struck once for each accented syllable of the
following rhyme, making it a very rhythmical game.
Strike the stick,
One you see.
I'll strike you and you strike me.
Strike the stick,
Strike it hard for a good, big sound.
Strike it thrice,
A stick won't hurt.
The magpie wears a small white shirt.
Four for you.
A camel, a horse, and a Mongol too.
Strike it five--
Five I said,
A mushroom grows with dirt on its head.
Strike it six
Thus you do,
Six good horsemen caught Liu Hsiu.
Strike it seven
For 'tis said
A pheasant's coat is green and red.
Strike it eight,
Strike it right,
A gourd on the house-top blossoms white.
Strike it nine,
We'll have some soup, some meat and wine.
Strike it ten,
Then you stop,
A small, white blossom on an onion top.
Chi did not wait for further suggestion from any one, but called
The boys all ran to an adjoining wall, each took a cash
from his purse or pocket, and pressing it against the wall,
let it drop. The one whose cash rolled farthest away took
it up and threw it against the wall in such a way as to make
it bound back as far as possible.
Each did this in turn. The one whose cash bounded
farthest, then took it up, and with his foot on the place
whence he had taken it, he pitched or threw it in turn at
each of the others. Those he hit he took up. When he
missed one, all who remained took up their cash and struck
the wall again, going through the same process as before.
The one who wins is the one who takes up most cash.
This seemed to call to mind another pitching game, for
Chi said once more in his old military way:
The boys drew two lines fifteen feet apart. Each took a
piece of brick, and, standing on one line pitched to see who
could come nearest to the other.
The one farthest from the line set up his brick on the line
and the one nearest, standing on the opposite line, pitched
at it, the object being to knock it over.
If he failed he set up his brick and the other pitched at it.
If he succeeded, he next pitched it near the other, hopped
over and kicked his brick against that of his companion,
knocking it over. Then he carried it successively on his
head, on each shoulder, on back and breast (walking), in
the bend of his thigh and the bend of his knee (hopping),
and between his legs (shuffling), each time dropping it on
the other brick and knocking it over.
Finally he marked a square enclosing the brick, eighteen
inches each side, and hopped back and forth over both
square and brick ten times which constituted him winner of
Chi had become so expert in pitching and dropping the
brick as to be able to play the game without an error. The
shuffling and hopping often caused much merriment.
"What is that game," we inquired of Chi, "the boys on
the street play with two marbles?"
Without directly answering my question Chi turned to the boys and
"Kick the marbles."
The boys soon produced from somewhere,--Chinese boys
can always produce anything from anywhere,--two marbles
an inch and a half in diameter. Chi put one on the ground,
and with the toe of his shoe upon it, gave it a shove. Then
placing the other, he shoved it in the same way, the object
being to hit the first.
There are two ways in which one may win. The first
boy says to the second, kick this marble north (south, east
or west) of the other at one kick. If he succeeds he wins,
if he fails the other wins.
If he puts it north as ordered, he may kick again to hit
the other ball, in which case he wins again. If he hits the
ball and goes north, as ordered, at one kick, he wins double.
Each boy tries to leave the balls in as difficult a position
as possible for his successor; and here comes in a peculiarity
which leaves this game unique among the games of the world. If
the position in which the balls are left is too difficult for the
other to play he may refuse to kick and the first is compelled to
play his own difficult game--or like Haman--to hang on his own
gallows. It recognizes the Chinese golden rule of not doing to
others what you would not have them do to you.
The boys spent a long time playing this game--indeed they seemed
to forget they were playing for us, and we were finally compelled
to call them off.
Chi had turned the marbles over to the others as soon as
he had fairly started it, and stood in that peculiar fashion of
his with one leg wound around the other, and when we
called to them, he simply said as though it were the next
part of the same game:
"Kick the shoes."
The boys all took off their shoes--an easy matter for an
Oriental--and piled them in a heap. At a given sign they
all kicked the pile scattering the shoes in every direction,
and each snatched up, and, for the time, kept what he got.
Those who were very agile got their own shoes, or a pair
which would fit them, while those who were slow only
secured a single shoe, and that either too large or too small.
It was amusing to see a large-footed boy with a small shoe,
and a boy with small feet having a shoe or shoes much too
large for him.
The game was a good test of the boys' agility.
On consulting our watch we found it would soon be time for the
boys to enter school, but asked them to play one more game.
"Cat catching mice," said Chi.
The children selected one of their company to represent the cat
and another the mouse.
The remainder formed a ring with the mouse inside and
the cat outside, and while the ring revolved, the following
conversation took place:
"What o'clock is it?"
"Just struck nine."
"Is the mouse at home?"
"He's about to dine."
All the time the mouse was careful to keep as far as possible
from the cat.
The ring stopped revolving and the cat popped in at this
side and the mouse out at the other. It is one of the rules
of the game that the cat must follow exactly in the footsteps
of the mouse. They wound in and out of the ring for some time but
at last the mouse was caught and "eaten," the eating process
being the amusing part of the game. It is impossible to describe
it as every "cat" does it differently, and one of the virtues of
a cat is to be a good eater.
The boys continued to play until the bell rang for the
evening session. They referred to many different games
which they had received from Europeans, but played only
those which Chi had learned upon the street before he
entered school. This was repeated day after day, until we
had gathered a large collection of their most common, and
consequently their best, games, the number of which was
an indication of the richness of the play life of Chinese boys.
Another peculiarly interesting fact was the leadership of
Chi. The Chinese boy, like the Chinese man is a genuine
democrat and is ready to follow the one who knows what he
is about and is competent to take the lead, with little regard
to social position. It is the civil service idea of a genuine
democracy ingrained in childhood.
GAMES PLAYED BY GIRLS
After having made the collection of boys' games we
undertook to obtain in a similar way, fullest information
concerning games played by the girls. Of course, it was
impossible to do it alone, for the appearance of a man
among a crowd of little girls in China is similar to that of a
hawk among a flock of small chicks--it results in a tittering
and scattering in every direction, or a gathering together in
a dock under the shelter of the school roof or the wings of
the teacher. One of the teachers, however, Miss Effie
Young, kindly consented to go with us, and a goodly
number of the small girls, after a less than usual amount of
tittering and whispering, gathered about us to see what was
wanted. The smallest among them was the most brave,
and Miss Young explained that this was a "little street
waif" who had been taken into the school because she had
neither home nor friends, with the hope that something
might be done to save her from an unhappy fate.
"Do you know any games?" we asked her.
She put her hands behind her, hung her head, shuffled
in an embarrassed manner, and answered: "Lots of them."
"Play some for me."
This small girl after some delay took control of the party
and began arranging them for a game, which she called "going
to town," similar to one which the boys called "pounding rice."
Two of the girls stood back to back, hooked their arms, and as
one bent the other from the ground, and thus alternating, they
Up you go, down you see,
Here's a turnip for you and me;
Here's a pitcher, we'll go to town;
Oh, what a pity, we've fallen down.
At which point they both sat down back to back, their arms still
locked, and asked and answered the following questions:
What do you see in the heavens bright?
I see the moon and the stars at night.
What do you see in the earth, pray tell?
I see in the earth a deep, deep well.
What do you see in the well, my dear?
I see a frog and his voice I hear.
What is he saying there on the rock?
Get up, get up, ke'rh kua, ke'rh kua.
They then tried to get up, but, with their arms locked,
they found it impossible to do so, and rolled over and got
up with great hilarity.
This seemed to suggest to our little friend another game,
which she called "turning the mill." The girls took hold
of each other's hands, just as the boys do in "churning
butter," but instead of turning around under their arms they
turn half way, put one arm up over their head, bringing
their right or left sides together, one facing one direction
and one the other; then, standing still, the following dialogue
Where has the big dog gone?
Gone to the city.
Where has the little dog gone?
Then, as they began to turn, they repeated:
The big dog's gone to the city;
The little dog's run away;
The egg has fallen and broken,
And the oil's leaked out, they say.
But you be a roller
And hull with power,
And I'll be a millstone
And grind the flour.
As soon as this game was finished our little friend
arranged the children against the wall for another game.
Everything was in readiness. They were about to begin,
when one of the larger girls whispered something in her
ear. She stepped back, put her hands behind her, hung
her head and thought a moment.
"Go on," we said.
"No, we can't play that; there is too much bad talk in it."
This is one of the unfortunate features of Chinese children's
games and rhymes. There is an immense amount of bad talk in them.
She at once called out:
"Meat or vegetables."
Each girl began to scurry around to find a pair of old
shoes, which may be picked up almost anywhere in China,
and putting one crosswise of the other, they let them fall.
The way they fell indicated what kind of meat or vegetables
they were. If they both fell upside down they were the big black
tiger. If both fell on the side they were double beans.
If one fell right side up and the other on its side they were
beans. If both were right side up they were honest officials.
(What kind of meat or vegetables honest officials are it is
difficult to say, but that never troubles the Chinese child.)
If one is right side and the other wrong side up they are
dogs' legs. If the toe of one rests on the top of the other,
both right side up and at right angles, they form a dark
hole or an alley.
The child whose shoes first form an alley must throw a
pebble through this alley--that is, under the toe of the shoe
--three times, or, failing to do so, one of the number takes
up the shoes, and standing on a line, throws them all back
over her head. Then she hops to each successively, kicking
it back over the line, each time crossing the line herself, until
all are over. In case she fails another tries it in the same
way, and so on, till some one succeeds. This one then takes
the two shoes of the one who got the alley, and, hanging
them successively on her toe, kicks them as far as possible.
The possessor of the shoes, starting from the line, hops to
each, picks it up and hops back over the line with it, which
ends the game. It is a vigorous hopping game for little girls.
The girls were pretty well exhausted when this game was over and
we asked them to play something which required less exercise.
"Water the flowers," said the small leader.
Several of them squatted down in a circle, put their hands
together in the centre to represent the flowers. One of their
number gathered up the front of her garment in such a way as to
make a bag, and went around as if sprinkling water on their
heads, at the same time repeating:
"I water the flowers, I water the flowers,
I water them morning and evening hours,
I never wait till the flowers are dry,
I water them ere the sun is high."
She then left a servant in charge of them while she went
to dinner. While she was away one of them was stolen.
Returning she asked: "How is this that one of my flowers is
"A man came from the south on horseback and stole one
before I knew it. I followed him but how could I catch a
man on horseback?"
After many rebukes for her carelessness, she again sang:
"A basin of water, a basin of tea,
I water the flowers, they're op'ning you see."
Again she cautioned the servant about losing any of the
flowers while she went to take her afternoon meal, but another
flower was stolen and this time by a man from the west.
When the mistress returned, she again scolded the servant,
after which she sang:
"A basin of water, another beside,
I water the flowers, they're opening wide."
This was continued until all the flowers were gone. One
had been taken by a carter, another by a donkey-driver,
another by a muleteer, another by a man on a camel, and
finally the last little sprig was eaten by a chicken. The
servant was soundly berated each time and cautioned to be
more careful, which she always promised but never
performed, and was finally dismissed in disgrace without either
a recommendation, or the wages she had been promised when hired.
The game furnishes large opportunity for invention on the part of
the servant, depending upon the number of those to be stolen.
This little girl seemed to be at her wit's end when she gave as
the excuse for the loss of the last one that it had been eaten by
This game suggested to our little friend another which proved to
be the sequel to the one just described, and she called out:
The girl who had just been dismissed appeared from behind the
corner of the house with all the stolen "flowers," each holding
to the other's skirts. At the same time she was calling out:
"Flowers for sale,
Flowers for sale,
Come buy my flowers
Before they get stale."
The original owner hereupon appeared and called to her:
"Hey! come here, flower-girl, those flowers look like mine," and
she took one away.
The flower-seller did not stop to argue the question but
hurried off crying:
"Flowers for sale," etc.
The original owner again called to her:
"Ho! flower-seller, come here, those flowers are certainly mine,"
whereupon she took them all and whipped the flower-seller who ran
As the little flower-seller ran away crying in her sleeve,
she stumbled over an old flower-pot that lay in the school
court. This accident seemed to act as a reminder to our
little leader for she called out,
The girls divided themselves into companies of three and stood in
the form of a triangle, each with her left hand holding the right
hand of the other, their hands being crossed in the centre.
Then by putting the arms of two back of the head of the third
she was brought into the centre (steps into the well), and by
stepping over two other arms, she goes out on the opposite
side, so that whereas she was on the left side of this and
the right side of that one, she now stands on the right side of
this and the left side of that girl. In the same way the second
and third girls go through, and so on as long as they wish to
keep up the game, saying or singing the following rhyme:
You first cross over, and then cross back,
And step in the well as you cross the track,
And then there is something else you do,
Oh, yes, you make a flower-pot too.
By this time the girls had lost most of their strangeness
or embarrassment and continued the flower-pot until we
were compelled to remind them that they were playing for
us. Everybody let go hands and the little general called out,
"The cow's tail."
One girl with a small stick in her hand squatted down pretending
to be digging and the others took a position one behind the other
similar to the hawk catching the chicks. They walked up to the
girl digging and engaged in the following conversation:
"What are you digging?"
"Digging a hole."
"What is it for?"
"My pot for to boil."
"What will you heat?"
"Some water and broth."
"How use the water?"
"I'll wash some cloth.
"What will you make?"
"I'll make a bag."
"And what put in it?"
"A knife and a rag."
"What is the knife for?"
"To kill your lambs."
"What have they done?"
"They've eaten my yams."
"How high were they?"
"About so high."
"Oh, that isn't high."
"As high as the sky."
"What is your name?"
"My name is Grab, what is your name?"
"My name is Turn."
"Turn once for me."
They all walked around in a circle and as they turned they sang:
"We turn about once,
Or twice I declare,
And she may grab,
But we don't care."
"Can't you grab once for us?"
"Yes, but what I grab I keep."
She then ran to "grab" one of the "lambs" but they kept behind
the front girl just as the boys did in the hawk catching the
chicks. After awhile however, they were all caught.
Why this game is called "cow's tail" and the girls called
"lambs," we do not know. We asked the girls why and
their answer was, "There is no reason."
The girls were panting with the running before they were
all caught and we suggested that they rest awhile, but
instead the little leader called out:
"Let out the doves."
One of the larger girls took hold of the hands of two of
the smaller, one of whom represented a dove and the other
a hawk. The hawk stood behind her and the dove in front.
She threw the dove away as she might pitch a bird into
the air, and as the child ran it waved its arms as though they
were wings. She threw the hawk in the same way, and it
followed the dove.
She then clapped her hands as the Chinese do to bring
their pet birds to them, and the dove if not caught, returned
to the cage. This is a very pretty game for little children.
By this time the girls were all rested and our little friend
"Seek for gold."
Three or four of the girls gathered up some pebbles,
squatted down in a group and scattered them as they would
a lot of jackstones. Then one drew her finger between two
of the stones and snapped one against the other. If she hit
it the two were taken up and put aside.
She then drew her finger between two more and snapped them.
If she missed, another girl took up what were left,
scattered them, snapped them, took them up, and so on until one
or another got the most of the pebbles and thus won the game.
Our little friend was reminded of another and she called out:
"The cow 's eye."
Immediately the girls all sat down in a ring and put their feet
together in the centre. Then one of their number repeated the
following rhyme, tapping a foot with each accented syllable.
One, two, three, and an old cow's eye,
When a cow s eye's blind she'll surely die.
A piece of skin and a melon too,
If you have money I'll sell to you,
But if you're without,
I'll put you out.