Until a few years ago their “club” was a common brothel, too horrible to describe in the English language. As soon as a girl gave birth to her first child she came down on the father to keep her. In many cases, it is only fair to say, they lived together faithfully as man and wife, although such cases were not by any means in the majority. The poor creatures herded together in their unspeakable vice and infamy, with no shame or common modesty, fighting for the wherewithal to live, and only by chance living regularly with one man, and then only just so long as he wished. Little girls of ten and over regularly attended these awful hovels, and children grew out of their childhood with no other vision than that of entering into the disgraceful life as early as Nature would allow them. It meant little less than that practically the whole of the population was illegitimate, viewed from a Western standpoint. No such thing as marriage existed. Men and women cohabited in this horrible orgy of existence, with the result that murder, disease and pestilence were rife among them. It was only a battle of the survival of the fittest to pursue so terrible a life. Nearly all the people were diseased by the transgression of Nature’s laws.
After a time, however, through the instrumentality of Protestant missionaries, these wretched people began to see the light of civilization. Gradually, and of their own free will, the girls gave up their accursed dens of misery and shame, and the men lived more in accord with social law and order.
The Miao, too, had hitherto been dependent for their literature upon the Chinese character, which only a few could understand. Soon they had literature in their own language,[AE] and a great social reform set in. They showed a desire for Western learning such as has seldom been seen among any people in China—these were people lowest down in the social scale; and now the latest phase is the establishment of bethrothal and marriage laws, calculated to revolutionize the community and to introduce what in China is the equivalent for home life.
Betrothal among the Chinese is a matter with which the parties most deeply concerned have little to do. Their parents engage a go-between or match-maker, and another point is that there is no age limit. Not so now with the Christian Miao. No paid go-between is engaged, and brides are to be at a minimum age of eighteen years, and bridegrooms twenty. The establishment of these laws will, it is hoped, make for the emancipation from a life of the most dreadful misery of thousands of women in one of the darkest countries of the earth.[AF]
But now the Miao is pressing forward under his burdens, to guide himself in the struggle, to retrieve his falls and his failures; and in the future lies his hope—the indomitable hope upon which the interest of humanity is based—and he has in addition the grand expectation of escaping despair even in death. It is all the praiseworthy work of our fellow-countrymen, living isolated lives among the people, building up a worthy Christian structure upon Miao simplicity and humble fidelity to the foreigner.