SOMEWHERE in China the plains stretch mile upon mile, much farther than the eye can see. Many days it takes to traverse these plains by slow-going native cart, by donkey, or on foot, and the stranger is astonished at the numberless hamlets and tiny villages which come in sight, all so similar, and all so full of children. In the springtime the landscape seems to smile, for the whole world is dressed in shimmering green, and song-birds fly low over the tender stalks of grain, while the warm sun shines gaily down upon the scene. But when the days of autumn arrive, and the crops have all been garnered, the sordidness and grinding poverty of the land are laid bare, and it takes a stout heart and cheerful spirit in the traveller to keep him from being depressed and burdened by what he sees.
Somewhere in the heart of this great plain is hidden a market town which shall be known, by way of disguise, as the city of Feng Ti Fu. The translation of the real name of this place reads like poetry, for it is, "The city that those who are far away love." In all the names of earth, surely none was ever more inspired nor a happier choice than this!
Feng Ti Fu is not without natural attractions. Through it runs the river, and on either side, like giant gateways, stand East and West mountains; for at this point the plains are intersected by ranges of rocky hills. If the book of the life of the city could be written, it would be one of tears and laughter, but the misery would far outweigh the gladness, for a shadow falls across the place from West Mountain crowned with its Buddhist temple, and the shadow of that temple has darkened many lives. The fear of death, and of the malice of evil spirits, has been responsible for countless crimes that have occurred within the city walls and out in the rocky caves of the mountain side.
Within recent years a new day has begun to dispel the darkness, and though the signs of the dawn are faint as yet, a feeling of change is in the air. Sounder ideas are taking the place of old superstitions, and, under the touch of this new life, characters are developing and growing, and some who formerly resembled the brute beast are beginning to show on their faces a livelier intelligence. There are many causes at work to make this possible; the desire for education and for more conveniences, and the longing for less poverty and for more abundance. But the greatest cause of all is to be found in the lives and teaching of a little group of strangers from another land who have settled down in the country, moved by the pitifulness of the need and by the belief that in the lowest there is still a spark of the divine waiting only to be rekindled. The first years of the work of this group were marked by privations and hardships that others could never imagine, and which must be endured to be appreciated. Living in the primitive Cottages with thatched roofs and rough floors, there were few necessities and no luxuries, while the evidences of antagonism and even hatred that were met with in the streets added to the loneliness and desolation. The church was housed in a lowly building made over for the purpose, and another equally lowly was used for a hospital. In fact, so poor was this structure that bits of mud from the roof often dropped on the operating table while the doctor was working over a patient.
After sixteen years of earnest effort all this is changed; a new hospital stands in a commanding position overlooking the river, and a school for boys and another for girls now stand as models for the educational system of the whole province. Residences have been erected, and, by no means least in importance, an attractive church has been built, the clock on which rings out the hours over the city, the first town clock in all that part of China.
The author of this book was privileged to spend a year in China, and visited Feng Ti Fu, where she made the acquaintance of some of the people mentioned in these stories. Other characters and incidents have been gathered from reports, letters, and conversations, but let readers beware of trying to identify a single person; their efforts will be futile, since the author has allowed imagination to hold full sway, and has woven fact and fancy freely together in an attempt to make the country and people life-like to those who have never seen them.
No one should pick up this book hoping to find it a treatise on sociology or philanthropy, for it consists of but a few simple stories of the