All during the morning girls and women flocked up the hill with trays of gifts. There were many Mosos and other tribesmen among them as well as Chinese. The Moso girls wore their black hair cut short on the sides and hanging in long narrow plaits down their backs. They wore white leather capes (at least that was the original shade) and pretty ornaments of silver and coral at their throats, and as they were young and gay with glowing red cheeks and laughing eyes they were decidedly attractive. The guests were seated in groups of six on the stones of the temple courtyard. Small boys acted as waiters, passing about steaming bowls of vegetables and huge straw platters heaped high with rice. As soon as each guest had stuffed himself to satisfaction he relinquished his place to someone else and the food was passed again. We were frequently pressed to eat with them and in the evening when the last guest had departed the “chief mourner” brought us some delicious fruit candied in black sugar. She told Wu that they had fed three hundred people during the day and we could well believe it. The next morning the coffin was carried down the hill to the accompaniment of anguished wails and we were left once more to the peace and quiet of our beautiful temple courtyard.
Sometimes a family will plunge itself into debt for generations to come to provide a suitable funeral for one of its members, because to bury the dead without the proper display would not only be to “lose face” but subject them to the possible persecution of the angered spirits. This is only one of the pernicious results of ancestor worship and it is safe to say that most of the evils in China’s social order today can be traced, directly or indirectly, to this unfortunate practice.
A man’s chief concern is to leave male descendants to worship at his grave and appease his spirit. The more sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons who walk in his funeral procession, the more he is to be envied. As a missionary humorously says “the only law of God that ever has been obeyed in China is to be fruitful and multiply.” Craving for progeny has brought into existence thousands upon thousands of human beings who exist on the very brink of starvation. Nowhere in the civilized world is there a more sordid and desperate struggle to maintain life or a more hopeless poverty. But fear and self-love oblige them to continue their blind breeding. The apparent atrophy of the entire race is due to ancestor worship which binds it with chains of iron to its dead and to its past, and not until these bonds are severed can China expect to take her place among the progressive nations of the earth.
ACROSS THE YANGTZE GORGE
In mid-November we left the White Water with a caravan of twenty-six mules and horses. Following the road from Li-chiang to the Yangtze, we crossed the “Black Water” and climbed steadily upward over several tremendous wooded ridges, each higher than the last, to the summit of the divide.