National Geographic : 1932 Apr
HOW HALF THE WORLD WORKS BY ALICE TISDALE HOBART AND MARY A. NOURSE W ITHOUT machinery, how could we exist! Thus one im agines the efficiency - managed American would exclaim. And yet there is at least half the world that does live without it, carrying on its toil with prim itive handmade tools--tools forgotten and despised by our industrial age. But what we have pushed lightly aside as outgrown efficiency holds its own unique value-simplicity and individuality. There is an intimate human feeling about these tools, a charm illusive yet real. How far away and unimportant to one is the modern hurrying, machine-driven world when some day, walking along a winding footpath in China, you are forced to turn from your way because some with ered old peasant woman has placed her crude little spinning machine right in the middle of the path and sits beside it smil ing at you. She has never heard, much less con ceived, of the up-to-date thoroughfare of the West, which both law and safety bid you beware of monopolizing. You are altogether willing to turn from the path in payment to her for the vivid glimpse she has given you into that sim ple world in which she has her being. Often when in some ancient spot in China we come upon these simple toilers we are tempted to tell no one, for we know well that every bit of disclosure brings a little nearer the inevitable in vasion of machinery, devourer of that quiet and no-haste spirit. However con tradictory it may seem, we are writing now not to destroy, but to preserve. A SPRING INDUSTRY-RAISING SILKWORMS The modern world is marching so fast into the Orient that at best the old order of things will very soon disappear and be forgotten. In Japan it is rapidly going, and to a large extent it has disappeared from the port cities of China. We would hasten to catch the humble atmosphere of the old order and preserve a little of it be tween the leaves of a magazine, in order that it may not be forgotten. There is that wonderful springtime in central China! As you pass out of the city gates for a walk along the stone flagged country paths, you will see the mulberry trees stretching out their dis torted branches like clenched fists to the passer-by. Farmers in blue coats are out in these groves cutting off the new sprouts and leaves and carrying them in large baskets behind the high white walls that hide the farmhouses. You may not follow. The silkworms are being reared there, and the superstition runs among the countryfolk that the worms will die if a stranger looks upon them. If an ordinary stranger could work such havoc, what dire calamity might not a foreigner bring to the precious silk worms? Indeed, they are precious, so precious that if the weather is cool or rainy the women carry the tiny eggs in their bosoms until they are hatched. Then the young worms are laid in large flat trays in some dark corner of the house, where they are fed with mulberry leaves and tended carefully, lest cold or draft destroy them. Just once our opportunity to see the rearing of the silkworms came through the advanced ideas of some young Chinese women, teachers in one of the new indus trial schools. They set aside the old super stitions and even went so far as to invite us to visit the school to see their silkworms. We passed through a big central court to a room where a class of young girls sat cutting up mulberry leaves for the smallest silkworms to eat, and then into another room, dark and quiet, where were racks with great flat wicker trays piled high. They led us there on tiptoe, caution ing us to make no noise; for, after all, evidently they thought it wise not to disregard entirely the time-honored su perstition. There was no use letting the silkworms know that foreigners were look ing at them. THE SILKWORMS "GO UP THE HILL" In the darkness there was no sound but the munch, munch of the worms, as they devoured, with surprising rapidity, bits of mulberry leaves. There were trays of little worms, trays of middle-sized worms, and trays of big, fat worms, all munching, munching. The next week we were again sent for, as the worms were "going up the hill."