National Geographic : 1946 Mar
Puto, the Enchanted Island BY ROBERT F. FITCH With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author SACRED to the worship of Kuan Yin, Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, is Puto Shan, an island in the East China Sea about two days' journey by junk southward from Shanghai.* It lies in the Chu Shan Archipelago,t a group of rocky islets formed at the mouth of Hangchow Bay (Wan) by the extension into the sea of the Chekiang mountain range known as the "Great Grain Stack." For many years it was the goal of hope for millions of peace-loving pilgrims. Early in World War II the Japanese seized the archi pelago of which it is a part and set up mili tary bases on some of the islands. When I last saw Puto, it was a world apart, with 140 monasteries, temples, and anchorite dwellings. Its ideas, art, and architecture were hardly to be imagined by the Occidental mind. It had no family life save on sufferance. A few women may have helped their hus bands cultivate the isolated slopes of the northern shores, and a few others may have assisted in selling religious and art objects in the small shopping district attached to the Monastery of Universal Salvation, also called Southern Monastery; but the island took no cognizance of their existence. At times of the three annual festivals of Kuan Yin-the 19th day of the second, sixth, and ninth moons of the old Chinese calendar year-fleets of fishing junks ceased their ordi nary occupations to carry to Puto the dev otees of Kuan Yin. The regular temple and monastery staffs were insufficient to care for the pilgrims, and hundreds of extra cooks and attendants had to be engaged. Numerous itinerant priests came at these periods, partly to aid in the spe cial forms of worship desired and partly to solicit alms by promising the throngs happi ness and blessings in their final pilgrimage to the Western Paradise. First Visit to the Mysterious Isle More than sixty years ago my parents, attracted by the accounts of their Chinese friends, decided to visit Puto. We stayed at the Monastery of the White Flower. Of that first visit, one recollection stands out vividly. We were in a Chinese junk on our way to the island when a storm overtook us. In childish enthusiasm I obtained a small piece of matting and, using it as a toboggan, rode gloriously back and forth across the deck of the pitching junk, having the time of my life and feeling at one with the elements and the movements of the storm. The crew and the elder members of the family, however, were not so happy. "Puto strait," a monk has said, "is like a woman-normally gentle and peaceful, but easily roused to wrath and difficult to pacify." The local rains, too, have been likened to the tears of a petulant woman-quick to fall, slow to cease. Five other times I returned to Puto, and on one of these visits ran into a terrible typhoon. The Chinese junk crew became so terrified that they brought out a little image of the Goddess of Mercy. Kowtowing before her, they prayed fervently for safety. Lashed by the wind and seething waves, the junk was driven over a huge fishing dike. The anchor and chain were lost, the windlass was torn to pieces. Finally we were carried over green fields and left high, but not dry, on land. Subsequent tides failed to reach our boat. Fortunately, however, there was a small, crescent-shaped inlet near by. We hired 20 men to dig a passage from the junk to this inlet, and thus enable us to put out to sea again. I believe that no other type of boat of double the size could have weathered that storm as did the sturdy Chinese junk. Its light bow enabled it to surmount the crest of an almost vertical wave, and the heavy beams with stood tremendous blows. Some four miles in length and varying from a few hundred yards to two miles in width, Puto Shan is made up of a series of hills, the highest of which, Buddha's Peak, is 939 feet high. Buddhism has four famous centers of wor ship, representing the four elements-air, fire, earth, and water.$ Of these Buddhist shrines, *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Changing Shanghai," by Amanda Boyden, October, 1937; "Cosmopolitan Shanghai, Key Seaport of China," by W. Robert Moore, September, 1932; and "Today on the China Coast," by John B. Powell, February, 1945. t See "Map of Japan and Korea," supplement with the December, 1945, issue of the NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE, and page 375 of this issue. 1 See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, "China's Great Wall of Sculpture (Buddhist Caves of Yun Kang)," by Mary Augusta Mullikin, March, 1938.