One afternoon, in November of 1909, the execution ground of Yuen-nan-fu was the scene of a remarkably daring proceeding by the officials in the campaign for the total suppression of opium in the province. No less than 20,040 ounces of prepared opium were publicly destroyed by fire in the presence of an enormous crowd of people. The officials of the city were present in person, and everywhere the event was looked upon as the greatest public demonstration that the people had ever seen.
The missionary of whom I inquired denied that the infanticide at Chao-t’ong was very great—things must be improving!
Previous to my arrival at the city I had instructed my English-speaking boy to make inquiries in the city, and to let me know afterwards, whether girls were still sold publicly.
“Have got plenty,” he exclaimed, in describing this wholesale selling of female children into slavery. “I know, I know; you wantchee makee buy. Can do! You wantchee catch one piecee small baby, can catchee two, three tael. Wantchee one piecee very much tall, big piecee, can catch fifty dollar.”
Continuing, he told me that prices were fairly high, a girl who could boast good looks and who had reached an age when her charms were naturally the strongest fetching the alarming amount of three hundred taels. This was the highest figure reached, whilst small children could be had for anything up to twenty. This wholesale disposal of young girls, although the traffic was in some quarters emphatically denied to exist—a denial, however, which was all moonshine—is one of the chief sorrows of the district. And well it might be; for thousands of children are disposed of in the course of a year for a few taels by heartless parents, who watch them being carried away, like so much merchandise, to be converted into silver, in many cases in this poverty-stricken district merely to satisfy the craving for opium of some sodden wretch of a man who calls himself a father. Time and time again, long after I myself passed through Chao-t’ong, did I see little girls from three to ten years of age being conveyed by pack-horse to the capital, balanced in baskets on either side of the animal. This and the terrible infanticide which exists in all poor districts of China menaces the lives of all well-wishers of the entire province of Yuen-nan.
In the particular district of which I speak it is not an uncommon sight to see little children being torn to pieces by dogs, the scavengers of the Empire, perhaps by the very dogs that had been their playmates from birth. I have been riding many times and found that my horse had stepped on a human skull, and near by were the bones the dogs had left as the remains of the corpse.
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NOTE.—I should mention that, since the above was written, I have lived and travelled a good deal around Chao-t’ong-fu, being the only European traveller who has ever penetrated the country to the east of the main road, by which I had now come down.