Lü Heng was a native of Changzhou and made his living selling imported merchandise. His work often took him on long sea voyages to foreign lands and it was on one of these trips, in the year 1775, that the boat in which he was traveling encountered a ferocious storm.
The boat sank and everyone except Lü perished. Lü survived by clinging to a piece of timber from the wreck, and in this perilous state he was swilled around the oceans and buffeted mercilessly by the waves, until eventually he was washed up on the shores of a very strange land.
As he later discovered, everyone in this land lived in buildings that were either three or five stories high. Each level was designated for a separate generation of the family. In the three-story buildings, the grandparents would occupy the third floor, the father's generation the second, and the son's generation the first. In the five-story buildings the top floor was occupied by the great-great-grandparents, and so on.
The buildings had no doors at all, just door frames, and although the people were extremely wealthy, burglary and robbery were unknown. When Lü Heng first arrived he was naturally unable to communicate with the locals. Consequently, he became adept at getting his meaning across with gestures in a rudimentary sign language. After a while he picked up a smattering of the local language and when he explained to his hosts that he was a citizen of China, they treated him with great courtesy and generosity.
It was customary in this nation to divide one day into two days. That is, the people would wake at dawn, go to work, and carry out any necessary business until noon. After this time, they would return home to sleep.
Later in the afternoon the second day would begin. Work would continue until about nine o'clock in the evening, when the people returned home to sleep again.