Second, while Lucy's accounts resemble those from other sources—including the one from the Wu Youru huabao: Fengsu zhi tushuo (1909)—her descriptions provide great insights regarding the process of the ritual, the viewers' and the participants' reactions, and her own reflections about the ritual and its surrounding beliefs. For example, the Wu Youru huabao stated that plenty of well-decorated items were stored in the boats. Lucy also mentioned this stating that these included “the offerings of the people in the shape of models of chairs, tables, cooking utensils, besides rice, dried fruits, clothes, cash or copper money.” Lucy further observed that several ritual participants carried lighted lanterns when they marched outside the city gate, which, according to the Wu Youru huabao, was “making the night as bright as the daytime.” After the boat-sending ritual and the lantern parade, as Lucy noted, ritual participants would “carefully blew out the lights in every lantern, lest the evil spirits should again come creeping back with them.”
Finally, the space of water was also noted in Lucy's account. For example, as the ceremony was near completion, the people who were participating in the procession would prepare to send the boat of evil spirits, crying in this fashion:
Apparently, water was used as a medium to propel evil spirits far away from the city. Similar to the practice in other places, another cleaner, namely fire, was used to burn the boat on the river. The procession, the water, and the fire, in combination thus served as an instrument to distinguish between the clean and the unclean realms of daily life.
Now, let's read the account of Lucy Soothill about the practice of sending off a boat:
ONCE, in our City-of-the-South, I set out with the intention of counting how many I met who were pitted with smallpox, but when I reached into the scores, they were too numerous, and I gave it up. I recall having heard it said that, from the dowry point of view, a woman who had had smallpox was of greater financial value, she being thus insured against contracting it again. The theory is that people should go out when they have the Great Guest, smallpox, but remain indoors when they have the Little Guest, measles.
The people believe that most, if not all, sickness is caused by evil spirits, and they have their own orthodox methods of dealing with them. Epidemics of cholera and typhoid are perhaps the worst visitations of evil spirits, and every year or two these grow out of hand and become rampant. Hundreds, nay thousands, die. Sometimes the coffin-makers cannot make coffins fast enough the death-wail is constantly heard, creating a terrible feeling of depression. The loud weird cries of women mourning beside the graves, or coffins, on the hillsides is so affecting that one longs for them to stop their wailing. One tries to comfort the soul with the thought that these public manifestations of grief are sometimes done as a duty.
In an epidemic of cholera, which usually happens in the autumn, evil spirits have taken possession of our city, and their anger must be appeased by feasts, gifts, and ceremonies. But the chief thing is to be rid of them and to hasten their departure the citizen's sung-jue, or Send a Boat. Three times do I remember this Sending a Boat. Each time the great religions observance cost thousands of dollars, and was largely contributed to by the rich. On the last occasion a banker subscribed a hundred dollars, and sums given varied from a hundred to half a dollar.
With part of the subscriptions is made a huge full-sized boat of bamboos. Into this are put the offerings of the people in the shape of models of chairs, tables, cooking utensils, besides rice, dried fruits, clothes, cash or copper money. Even a tiny opium pipe is added for the delectation of the spirits. These objects remain in the Boat for the seven days during which the vessel stands in one of the chief temples: and the Boat looks very gay with its decorations of coloured flags and sails. Everything is of paper, both the Boat and its contents, except the bamboo framework of the keel. Whilst it is waiting at the temple, a contingent of twenty priests chant prayers and petitions there from eight in the morning till mid-night-expecting to be heard for to air much speaking, it would seem.
The last year a pathetic incident roused the sympathies of all. The eldest son of a widow took cholera, and when death approached, he called to his distracted mother.
"I know I am dying. My soul is already on the Boat," he said.
With streaming hair, token of deepest distress, the poor woman at once went to the temple, and kneeling down beside the Boat, cried aloud to the evil spirits.
"Give me back my son's spirit!" she prayed. "Give me back my son's spirit!"
But, in spite of all her entreaties, her son died.
On the first of the seven days during which the Boat remains at the big temple, a number of the gods from other temples are invited to come there also. En route they are carried through those parts of the city supposed to be under their special protection. I had a full view of two of these gods in their large gaily decorated sedan-chairs. They were carved in wood, and grandly dressed in beautifully embroidered silks and satins. One god's face was painted bright red, another blue. Others had white or gold faces, but no green ones were in evidence, though I know not why. After the inspection of their districts these gods were taken to the Boat temple, where they remained for the seven days during which the priests were chanting petitions.
We were warned that the Boat would come along our front street on Saturday evening about eight o'clock, which meant that the evil spirits were then to be escorted out of the city in state. When the loud uproar announced the approach of the procession, Sing Su [William Soothill] and I, with one or two others, stood outside our door, as much in the shadow as possible, lest we bring more evil upon them. We waited. Presently on came the great throng. Hundreds and hundreds of men marched along in a disorderly sort of order, about six abreast. Each held aloft a lighted lantern, and shouted the peculiar cry with which boatmen start their journeys.
As a rule the religious ceremonies we see in the City-of-the-South are disappointing. But on this occasion, helped by the thought of the dying hundreds, the sight of the vast multitude's evident sincerity and the sound of their piercing cries thrilled us through. On came the Boat, borne on the shoulders of many men. Next came four smaller boats, all alight with hanging lanterns. After these came the gods who had been the visitors at the temple. More men carried lanterns, and a large following of people completed this remarkable procession. Those who were not doing duty in it were sitting quietly in their darkened houses, without lights, afraid to watch the procession lest the evil spirits should know of their presence and injure them in passing.
"This is the first time we have ever dared to do this thing," said the two Christian women who stood with us.
When the procession reached the outside of the city gate, with as little disturbance as possible the big Boat was fastened to two small boats. The people cried meanwhile to the spirits in the Boat after this fashion:
“We people of the City-of-the-South are a poor, wretched, miserable set, not worth attention. But a little distance down the river is a fine large city. There the people are much richer, and the women more beautiful, and they invite you to go there and thoroughly enjoy yourselves!”
One or two men then towed the Boat a mile or two down the river to the foot of a hill, where they set it on fire and burnt it. The people who formed the procession returned to the city. But before stealthily entering the gates, they carefully blew out the lights in every lantern, lest the evil spirits should again come creeping back with them. Once inside, with the big gates shut and barred, they relit their lanterns, and went home rejoicing in the belief that again the demons of sickness and death were exorcised from their homes and the city.