The Lo-Cha country and the
Once upon a time there was a young man, named Ma Chun,
who was also known as Lung-mei. He was the son of a trader,
and a youth of surpassing beauty. His manners were courteous,
and he loved nothing better than singing and playing. He used to
associate with actors, and with an embroidered handkerchief
round his head the effect was that of a beautiful woman. Hence
he acquired the sobriquet of the Beauty. At fourteen years of age
he graduated and began to make a name for himself; but his
father, who was growing old and wished to retire from business,
said to him, "My boy, book-learning will never fill your belly or
put a coat on your back; you had much better stick to the old
thing." Accordingly, Ma from that time occupied himself with
scales and weights, with principal and interest, and such matters.
He made a voyage across the sea, and was carried away by a
typhoon. After being tossed about for many days and nights he
arrived at a country where the people were hideously ugly. When
these people saw Ma they thought he was a devil, and all ran
screeching away. Ma was somewhat alarmed at this, but finding
that it was they who were frightened of him, he quickly turned
their fear to his own advantage. If he came across people eating
and drinking he would rush upon them, and when they fled away
for fear, he would regale himself upon what they had left.
By-and-by he went to a village among the hills, and there the
people had at any rate some facial resemblance to ordinary men.
But they were all in rags and tatters like beggars. So Ma sat down
to rest under a tree and the villagers, not daring to come near
him, contented themselves with looking at him from a distance.
They soon found, however, that he did not want to eat them, and
by degrees approached a little closer to him. Ma, smiling, began
to talk; and although their language was different, yet he was
able to make himself tolerably intelligible, and told them whence
he had come.
The villagers were much pleased, and spread the news that the
stranger was not a man-eater. Nevertheless, the very ugliest of all
would only take a look and be off again; they would not come
near him. Those who did go up to him were not very much unlike
his own countrymen, the Chinese. They brought him plenty of
food and wine. Ma asked them what they were afraid of. They
replied, "We had heard from our forefathers that 26,000 li to the
west there is a country called China. We had heard that the
people of that land were the most extraordinary in appearance
you can possibly imagine. Hitherto it has been hearsay; we can
now believe it." He then asked them how it was they were so
poor. They answered, "You see, in our country everything
depends, not on literary talent, but on beauty. The most
beautiful are made ministers of state; the next handsomest are
made judges and magistrates; and the third class in looks are
employed in the palace of the king. Thus these are enabled out of
their pay to provide for their wives and families. But we, from
our very birth, are regarded by our parents as inauspicious, and
are left to perish, some of us being occasionally preserved by
more humane parents to prevent the extinction of the family."
Ma asked the name of their country, and they told him it was
Lo-cha. Also that the capital city was some 30 li to the north. He
begged them to take him there, and next day at cock-crow he
started thitherwards in their company, arriving just about dawn.
The walls of the city were made of black stone, as black as ink,
and the city gate-houses were about 100 feet high. Red stones
were used for tiles, and picking up a broken piece Ma found that
it marked his finger-nail like vermilion.
They arrived just when the Court was rising, and saw all the
equipages of the officials. The village people pointed out one
who they said was Prime Minister. His ears dropped forward in
flaps; he had three nostrils, and his eye-lashes were just like
bamboo screens hanging in front of his eyes. Then several came
out on horseback, and they said these were the privy councilors.
So they went on, telling him the rank of all the ugly uncouth fellows he saw. The lower they got down in the official scale the less
hideous the officials were. By-and-by Ma went back, the people
in the streets marveling very much to see him, and tumbling
helter-skelter one over another as if they had met a goblin. The
villagers shouted out to reassure them, and then they stood at a
distance to look at him.
When he got back, there was not a man, woman, or child in
the whole nation but knew that there was a strange man at
the village; and the gentry and officials became very
desirous of seeing him. However, if he went to any of their houses the porter
always slammed the door in his face, and the master, mistress,
and family, in general, would only peep at, and speak to him
through the cracks. Not a single one dared receive him face to
face; but, finally, the village people, at a loss what to do, be-
thought themselves of a man who had been sent by a former king
on official business among strange nations. "He," said they,
"having seen many kinds of men, will not be afraid of you."