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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/549

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memorized text from the "classics"; but in matters of general interest they are often the merest children in knowledge. They are recruited from all classes of society, but most generally from the so-called literary class. They are strictly celibates, and are vegetarians in living. Priests are exempt from the law which requires every other male Chinaman to wear the crown-locks braided in a queue, while the rest of the head is smoothly shaved.

Formerly the custom of scalp-taking in the event of conquest was observed by the Tartars and Chinese (from whom the custom was handed down through their successors in this country, he Indians); but when the Tartars subjugated China they issued a decree that all who would shave their scalps, except the scalplocks, in token of subjection, and wear that in a braided queue, to be ready to be removed if emergency should arise, would have their lives spared. It is not recorded how many refused to accept the conditions, but the queue on the head of every Chinaman today is the flag of truce, as it were, and by it he is counted loyal to his conquerors; but the priests were exempted from this rule, owing, no doubt, to the custom already in vogue among them of shaving the head clean as a mark of humility.

The priests live in the temples, having no other home. The temples are located in the most inaccessible places in mountains and on islands, and often cover acres of land. They are void of architectural beauty or effect, and consist of a main auditorium, with a succession of sheds attached, windowless and plain. The main room is furnished with an altar, on which is placed an image, generally of wood, of Buddha, sitting upon an imitation lotus leaf, and on either side of this image are other images of lesser lights in the calendar of saints who are supposed to be especially celebrated in Buddhist annals. In front of these figures incense-sticks burn day and night. These are made of dried aromatic wood reduced to fine powder and mixed into paste with oil and then put on splinters of dry wood, the lower end of which is stuck into a vase of sand and the upper end lighted, which burns slowly without a blaze, the curling, slender volume of smoke shedding forth an odor which counteracts the damp, musty smells of the old stone walls and sunless rooms.

The sheds attached serve as living-rooms for the priests and as guest-chambers for pilgrims and travelers.

At intervals around the walls of the audience-room stand the images of other saints in the calendar, which includes eighteen or more principal characters. These are not intended to represent deities, as many people suppose, but simply symbolize and preserve the memories of the men who figured prominently in the past history of the religion. They are supposed to represent