Thursday 8 November 2012

Chinese Performance


The Chinese Junk now, by permission of the civic authorities (the conservators of the river) firmly established on the mud-bank at the end of Essex-street, Strand, close to the outfall of the main sewer of St. Clement's parish, is thrown open daily - morning and evening - with a variety of entertainment a la Chinaise including a vocal and instrumental concert, a grand assault of arms, Chinese conjuring tricks, &c. The native crew, who of course, never contemplate going to see again, are the performers, and acquit themselves in an artistic manner, worthy of the "supers" of the Victoria or Astley's. At the evening performances the queer old craft is lighted up with festoons of coloured lamps - a sort of miniature Vauxhall; and in the midst stands an open orchestra, in which four or five instrumentalists ("Barbarians" not Chinese) prepare the ear for the extraordinary combination of sounds which is to follow. Nothing can exceed the gravity of the "celestials" as they take their position in the midst of the assembly on the main-deck, and proceed to fright he ear with gong and drum and cymbal, and agonizing cat-gut; the leader beating time with a stake upon a sort of tin saucepan-lid supported on three legs. Then the vocalisation! The extraordinary squeaking duet, half plaintive, half comic, between the said leader (who is a sort of Costa and Mario rolled into one) and a younger aspirant in the background - what can possibly exceed its harrowing and ludicrous effect? Nothing except that impromptu feline discourse which we sometimes hear on house-tops at dead of night. The concert being concluded amidst the breathless silence of an astonished auditory, the war demonstrations and feats of arms then commence; and these are certainly no less extraordinary than what has gone before. The first act consist of a set of grotesque posturings, in which the performers disport themselves severally one after the onther, each striving to outdo the other in wildness and extravagance of his gestures - flying and leaping round the deck, thrusting out the arms right and left, threatening, retreating, &c. the musicians all the time keeping up a terrific clang. Next come a series of somewhat similar performances with long poles or lances; this scene closing with a set-to between two performers, which we have endeavoured to embody in our Engraving. Swords are also introduced, and brandished about in the same manner, which, if intended to give any idea of the military science of the Chinese, shows them to be very far behind any other nation in the world in that respect. One young hero, in the course of his "war demonstrations" afforded great amusement every now and then, particularly after some very startling efforts at cut and thrust, by throwing himself down and turning a somerset over his shield. When we left, the "barbarian" orchestra was about to strike up again, and dancing, it was said, was about to commence, but we did not wait for it.

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