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Alice Browne Frame, Letter from 1905

Frame describes her first impressions of Tungchou, China

 

Tungchou, North China,
November 24, 1905

Dear Girls:
            If any of you ever longed for a fresh start in life, by all means come to China!  I really imagined when I left America that I was quite settled in life, but it was a delusion!  I’m discovering that I have another name, another age, another language, people, and country.  So I feel it quite necessary to introduce myself immediately, so that you’ll recognize your new missionary as she appears in China!
            My name, if you please, is not Miss Browne, but Bin Chiao Shih (Jee-ow-shir), --which is, being interpreted, Teacher Bin.  Since there are only one hundred surnames in the entire Chinese language, everyone living in China must adopt one as much like his own as possible.  Hence my rechristening as Bin, which means “guest.”  Isn’t it a beautiful meaning?
            As for my age, I early found out that one of the polite questions asked me by almost every Chinese is “How old are you?”  And I found, too, that it was not enough to tell my actual age, but according to the Chinese mode of reckoning, must add two years in giving it.  To grow two years older in a few weeks’stay in China is rather alarming, isn’t it?  Fortunately it stops there, or I should put Methuselah in the shade by the time I return to America.
            You are all sympathizing with me, I know, in grappling with this old dragon of a Chinese language.  You’ve probably heard a good deal about its intricacies, so I’ll spare you a description.  I have only just begun to study, but I think I shall like it.  When it is spoken, it has a rhythm which is rather attractive.  When one realizes that this “mandarin colloquial”that I am learning can be understood by 300,000,000 people, it makes the acquiring of it all well worth while, with the power it gives to reach all those people.
            Best of all my discoveries are the hosts and hostesses whose “guest”I am in this new country of mine.  Those of you who think the Chinese unattractive and stolid should come out here and see them in their homes.  The other afternoon I went to visit a little Christian day-school, and as the small boys and girls marched up in front of the missionary who examined them in their studies, I took a good look at them.  I’ll admit that their clothes did look queer; for their wadded winter garments gave them such an aldermanic portliness that the smallest ones puffed a bit about getting up or down!  Their hair was queer, too, for the boys’and girls’glossy black queues were so exactly alike that I could only tell them apart by the girls’ear-rings; the little ones’locks were tied with pink string in absurd little stiff pig-tails that sprouted out from their heads at all angles.  But if you could have seen their faces, you would have surrendered at once.  With bright sparkling eyes, smooth olive cheeks that showed a dimple now and then, I thought they were just dear, and I know you would’ve agreed with me.  The faces of the older men and women are quite as attractive in a different way, for the faces of the Chinese are remarkably full of character.
            If I had had any doubts as to my being needed out here, not a shred would have been left after the royal welcome they gave to the Wilders (who are returning from a furlough in America,) and myself.  When our train pulled into the little Tungchou station, I fairly caught my breath when I saw the crowds of people waiting for us.  There on the platform stood all the missionaries, looking as if they could hardly wait till we could get out of the car.  What a hand-shaking and exclaiming there was as we stepped out!  Almost before we could speak to them all, we were greeted by the Chinese pastors and helpers, whose faces shone as they spoke to Mr. Wilder and the rest of us.  You may be sure that it was with an answering enthusiasm in my heart that I gave the simple greeting, “Hao,”as I looked at those fine men whose Christianity has cost them so much.  But this was only part of my welcome.  Along the road that leads to the mission compound were standing the academy and college boys in orderly ranks.  I felt like an officer reviewing a regiment, as one of the missionaries led me down the path in front of them and told them that this was the new teacher of whom they had been told.  Whole divisions of them “made their manners”to me together, by bowing very low and lifting their clasped hands as high as their heads.  Beyond the big boys were the little boys, their black eyes fairly popping out of their heads at the excitement.  Next to them stoof the girls of the boarding and day schools, to welcome us, and a large group of the Christian women.  How they looked at me, their new teacher, and how they bowed and chattered!  Further along were the rest of the church-members, and we smiled to see even the stone-masons at work on the gate-way, standing with the servants in serried ranks to do us honor!  There was not a bit of doubt about it,--they were very glad to see us!
            As I walked along toward the gray brick houses of the missionaries, my thoughts lingered on the glow of welcome I had seen on those Chinese faces, and then flew over to America and to you girls who had made it possible to bring so much joy to these people living half way round the world.  I felt selfish to think you were not all there to see it too, and to share in my happiness in at last reaching my niche in this great work.
            There was more welcome, too.  The next afternoon to Mrs. Tewksbury invited the Chinese women to come and say goodbye to Mrs. Goodrich, and to greet Mrs. Wilder and myself.  I had a beautiful time, too, though I never was so dumb at a tea before.  However, since I couldn’t talk, I had the leisure to watch the eighty or so women, with their tall Manchu head-dresses or their knobby Chinese ones, their gay-colored garments, and some with tiny bound feet.  My mind was fairly bubbling over with things to say, but instead I could only nod and smile like the funny little porcelain mandarins that bob on our mantels.  But they seemed to understand.
            And there was more welcome yet!  The Chinese pastors and helpers invited us to a grand breakfast and dinner, to celebrate our coming.  I confess that I went with some misgivings, remembering the dreadful tales I’d heard, but I surprised everybody, including myself, by eating some of everything, including the twenty kinds of meat preparations.  Our hosts pityingly offered me a china spoon, but I stuck to my chopsticks, and managed to make a very good meal in spite of them.  There were all sorts of little oily fried cakes, pickled vegetables, a kind of steamed biscuit, and some delicious sweetmeats.
            There are every so many other things I want to tell you about,--the church services, my first experiences on a village trip, and the new home here, but this letter must go along.  Do you remember that when Stevenson was living in Samoa, he told a friend that it was not far away, “two doors to the left” from San Francisco? So please don’t think of me as “away off in China,”but as just “across the street.”  So send a thought and a letter sometimes to your very own missionary,

(Signed)  Alice Seymour Browne. (3)

 

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This page was created by Rebekah Dutkiewicz '09 in History 283, Spring Semester 2006 - rsdutkie@mtholyoke.edu