The Chinese Boy and Girl by Isaac Taylor Headland

“All children learn these stories in their youth,” he answered, and then as if fearing I would try to induce him to tell them to me he continued, “but nurses always tell these stories better than any one else, because they tell them so often to the children, for whom alone they were made.”
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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.




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 look out.”

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?”

“Fire-fly, fire-fly,
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 child.

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 children.

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,”

or that

“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 not.

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 bad habit.

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 other language.

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 rhyme:

This one’s old,
This one’s young
This one has
no meat;
This one’s gone
To buy some hay,
And this one’s on
the street.

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
wee, wee,
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 yellow dog?”

“I suppose, because a crane is somewhat the color of snow, and a yellow dog swift and the color of lightning.”


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 other country.

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 own daughter.

“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 in bullion.

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 asked:

“Whom are you talking about?”

“Your son.”

“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 relationships.

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 backs.

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 fault.

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.


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,” he explained.

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 answered:

“Lots of them.”

This is the stereotyped answer that will come from any Chinaman to almost any question he may be asked about things Chinese.
“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- not-much-given-to-vigorous-exercise theory.

“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?” we inquired.

“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’ games.

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:

“Select fruit.”

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 the players.

“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 ensued.

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 straight line?”

“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 finished.

“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 time.

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 already seen.

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,
Twice around,
Strike it hard for a good, big sound. Strike it thrice,
A stick won’t hurt.
The magpie wears a small white shirt. Strike again.
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 again,
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 out:

“Throw cash.”

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:

“Pitch brickbats.”

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 the game.

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 said:

“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.


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 sang:

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 took place:

Where has the big dog gone?
Gone to the city.
Where has the little dog gone?
Run away.

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 gone?”

“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 a chicken.

This game suggested to our little friend another which proved to be the sequel to the one just described, and she called out:

“The flower-seller.”

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 away crying.

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 said:

“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.