Hawking at the Great Wall

Date Created: 05 October 2006

Author: Arthur Adams

Location: Jakob Borch's Falconry Website

Link to: Website

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AS WE approach the slightly projecting angle of the coast of Pechili, where thea Great Wall ends, in the waters of the Gulf of Liangtung, we perceive a narrow tawny line of sand and some green clusters of dark trees, with the gable ends of joss-houses showing through the foliage, and for a back-ground a slate coloured-mountain range. The Great Wall, with its square towers and crenulated parapet, climbs the distant hills, and winds along the level plain at their bases. Landing at some rocks, we pass through a gap in the ruined pier of the Sea-Gate, mount a flight of broad granite steps, and get upon the top of the Wall. Here we see a quaint-looking watch-house, with high peaked roof and twisted gables, some important fat and lean mandarins, a few Tartar soldiers, horses and all, and a very inquisitive mass of shaven-paged, narrow-eyed, long-tailed sons of Han. The "observed of all observers," we pass through the intensely-staring through, and our walk upon the Great Wall of China is an accomplished fact. When we again dexcend to the sandy plain, we visit the temples seen nestling so prettily in the sacred groves of dark leaved trees; and here we find ourselves among fantastic gable ends and carvings, gilded dragons, and great bells hung in old-fashioned belfries. In the courtyard of the temple of the biggest joss is an antique bronze urn, and on either side a colossal tortoise, bearing on its back an upright monolith covered with inscriptions. These old stone tortoises are possibly coeval with the Great Wall, and fashioned some 2080 years ago. The surrounding country has, for this part of China, rather a flourishing aspect, althouth the building within the Sea-Gate are in ruins, and the "famous myriad-mile Wall," as the Chinese, in the pride of their hearts, love to call it, is in a very dilapidated condition, and in some parts is even banked up, and nearly covered with sand. Sheaves of newly-cut millet (the common food-plant of North China) are piled up in every field - for it is harvest time at the Great Wall; and scattered over the plain are little straggling homesteads, forthe most part snugly embosomed among trees, the flat roofs of the low mud-built houses just visble here and there through the green foliage. A reposing in the broad shadow of the Great Wall, which is seen vanishing in the far distance. Here we halt while frined Bedwell sketches the scene, and I smoke a pipe and contemplate from behind the cloud. An old gray-bearded man silently joins us, and solemnly lights his pipe at the sun by means of a burning-glass, a large pepple lens without a flaw or scratch, and which he mysteriously produces from the folds of his garments. As we everywhere observe along the shores of this gulf, a belt of sandy soil fringes the sea-board, where burdock and the yellow toadfllax, a small blue-flowered Iris, the wild onion, and the crane's-bill (Erodium maritinum ) are the only plants, and lizards and grasshoppers the only animals. In some parts the ground is swampy, and there are shallow snipe-haunted fresh-water pools. Here some teal and the garganey duck are shot by our sportsmen, as are also some curlews and some golden plovers. Two herons, the gray and the white, are common; and in this locality the godwit, the snipe and the sanderling finde themselves at home. In the act of demolishing a frog the great bittern is wounded, and rather astonishes the dog "Dash," as, with sharp open beak and bristling loose neck-feathers, he fiercely stands at bay. Overhead the wild geese and ducks are flying South in immense flocks before the cold northerly gales; the ubiquitous magpie is of course perched on the village trees, and the serious rook has work of his own among the grubs in the newly-ploughed fields; a goldencrested wren hops daintily amon the low bushes; the wagtail is jerking about the dry mud-flats; the skylark, singing, is lost among the clouds; and the quail is everywhere. Among the crowd of Chinamen at the Great Wall men are frequiently seen with beautiful tame hawks on their wrists: these are goshawks (Astur columbarius ), which they fly at quail. Falconry having come originally from the far East, the practice is doubtless more ancient than the Great Wall itself. In hawking for quail a man is required t ocarry a net for the captured birds, and also to beat the cover. When a quail rises the master of the hawk directs her attention to the quarry, when the goshawk darts forward and seizes the quail in her talons. The man with the net then runs up to her and takes away the quail, which is deposited with the others in his net. In this manner as many as twenty brace of quail may be taken in a day. The goshawk has a long silken cord round her neck, which is wound on a reel secured to the arm of her owner.

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