In 1745 Whampoa (Huangpu) – the dock area and waterfront of
Canton (now Guangzhou) was a city of boats as well as houses. In the harbour
huge junks from Singapore, Java, Borneo and Manila jostled for space alongside European
and American cargo vessels, river craft, and other junks laden with salt.
Avenues of shop boats sold toys, flowers,
food and clothing.
houseboats belonging to wealthy Chinese, were boats from which barbers,
fortune-tellers, theatrical companies, and caged bird sellers offered their services.
The Chinese are passionate about keeping small birds. They bring them to the parks during the day and hang the cages among the trees. I can't decide whether doing so is a kindness or horribly cruel. In the past they believed that buying caged birds and releasing them ensured the owner a place in Heaven. Weaving among these shop boats were sampans and ferries laden with people hurrying about
But despite guard boats patrolling the anchorage at night,
river thieves were as much a problem here as in London's river Thames.
Carrying a length of coir rope and a crowbar the thieves would
quietly enter the water some distance upstream and float down with only their
heads above water, their faces hidden under a scrap of matting or a broken basket. On reaching one of the foreign sailing ships they would tie
themselves to her anchor cable then, working quietly so as not to alert the
watchman, lever off the plates of copper sheathing. Losing this protection exposed the wooden hull
to worm and barnacles which slowed the ship in the water and added days to her
voyage, costing the owner both for the delay and to replace the copper plating.
Labels: C18th China, caged birds, Canton, city of boats and houses., river thieves