September 8th, 2018


Coffins everywhere

Here is Marquis de Beauvoir describing the future French Concession in 1867, traveling between the walled city and Xujiahui in winter:

Today we wish to go into the country: Zi-Ka-Wai is our goal; it is a little colony founded by the Jesuits, six miles from Shanghai. Picture to yourself a sandy plain, naked and barren, divided by several muddy canals which have no water at low tide; here and there a few villages, of which the wretched huts are only composed of yellow reeds and mud; to the right and left of the path we follow, hundreds and hundreds of coffins!

There are no cemeteries in North China, and over this immense extent of ground the coffins are distributed, like the baskets of flowers and groups of trees in an English garden. Sometimes it is in the midst of a field of cabbages and choice vegetables that, with no farther precautions, these long boxes of carved wood are deposited; sometimes in a corn-field four defunct Chinamen look as if they were playing puss-in-the-corner. Here is a pile of coffins heaped up in the shape of a sugar-loaf; there they serve as benches in an arbour; and this is what the light breezes pass over as they come to fertilize the smiling cultivation of the Chinese gardens. It is pushing love and respect for ancestors rather far!