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Chinese Sketches by Herbert A. Giles

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Etext prepared by John Bickers, jbickers@ihug.co.nz
and Dagny, dagnyj@hotmail.com



"The institutions of a despised people cannot be judged with fairness."

Spencer's Sociology: The Bias of Patriotism.


To Warren William de la Rue,
"As a mark of friendship."


The following /Sketches/ owe their existence chiefly to frequent
peregrinations in Chinese cities, with pencil and note-book in hand.
Some of them were written for my friend Mr. F. H. Balfour of Shanghai,
and by him published in the columns of the /Celestial Empire/. These
have been revised and partly re-written; others appear now for the
first time.

It seems to be generally believed that the Chinese, as a nation, are
an immoral, degraded race; that they are utterly dishonest, cruel, and
in every way depraved; that opium, a more terrible scourge than gin,
is now working frightful ravages in their midst; and that only the
forcible diffusion of Christianity can save the Empire from speedy and
overwhelming ruin. An experience of eight years has taught me that,
with all their faults, the Chinese are a hardworking, sober, and happy
people, occupying an intermediate place between the wealth and
culture, the vice and misery of the West.

H. A. G.

Sutton, Surrey, 1st November 1875.



His Imperial Majesty, Tsai-Shun, deputed by Heaven to reign over all
within the four seas, expired on the evening of Tuesday the 13th
January 1875, aged eighteen years and nine months. He was erroneously
known to foreigners as the Emperor T'ung Chih; but T'ung Chih was
merely the style of his reign, adopted in order that the people should
not profane by vulgar utterance a name they are not even permitted to
write.[*] Until the new monarch, the late Emperor's cousin, had been
duly installed, no word of what had taken place was breathed beyond
the walls of the palace; for dangerous thoughts might have arisen had
it been known that the State was drifting rudderless, a prey to the
wild waves of sedition and lawless outbreak. The accession of a child
to reign under the style of Kuang Hsu was proclaimed before it was
publicly made known that his predecessor had passed away.

[*] Either one or all of the characters composing an emperor's name
are altered by the addition or omission of certain component
parts; as if, for instance, we were to write an Alb/a/rt chain
merely because Alb/e/rt is the name of the heir-apparent.
Similarly, a child will never utter or write its father's name;
and the names of Confucius and Mencius are forbidden to all alike.

Of the personal history of the ill-fated boy who has thus been
prematurely cut off just as he was entering upon manhood and the
actual government of four hundred million souls, we know next to
nothing. His accession as an infant to the dignities of a sensual,
dissipated father, attracted but little attention either in China or
elsewhere; and from that date up to the year 1872, all we heard about
His Majesty was, that he was making good progress in Manchu, or had
hit the target three times out of ten shots at a distance of about
twenty-five yards. He was taught to ride on horseback, though up to
the day of his death he never took part in any great hunting
expeditions, such as were frequently indulged in by earlier emperors
of the present dynasty. He learnt to read and write Chinese, though
what progress he had made in the study of the Classics was of course
only known to his teachers. Painting may or may not have been an
Imperial hobby; but it is quite certain that the drama received more
perhaps than its full share of patronage. The ladies and eunuchs of
the palace are notoriously fond of whiling away much of their
monotonous existence in watching the grave antics of professional
tragedians and laughing at the broad jokes of the low-comedy man, with
his comic voice and funnily-painted face. Listening to the tunes
prescribed by the Book of Ceremonies, and dining in solemn solitary
grandeur off the eight[*] precious kinds of food set apart for the
sovereign, his late Majesty passed his boyhood, until in 1872 he
married the fair A-lu-te, and practically ascended the dragon throne
of his ancestors. Up to that time the Empresses-Dowager, hidden behind
a bamboo screen, had transacted business with the members of the Privy
Council, signing all documents of State with the vermilion pencil for
and on behalf of the young Emperor, but probably without even going
through the formality of asking his assent. The marriage of the
Emperor of China seemed to wake people up from their normal apathy, so
that for a few months European eyes were actually directed towards the
Flowery Land, and the /Illustrated London News/, with praiseworthy
zeal, sent out a special correspondent, whose valuable contributions
to that journal will be a record for ever. The ceremony, however, was
hardly over before a bitter drop rose in the Imperial cup. Barbarians
from beyond the sea came forward to claim the right of personal
interview with the sovereign of all under Heaven. The story of the
first audience is still fresh in our memories; the trivial
difficulties introduced by obstructive statesmen at every stage of the
proceedings, questions of etiquette and precedence raised at every
turn, until finally the /kotow/ was triumphantly rejected and five
bows substituted in its stead. Every one saw the curt paragraph in the
/Peking Gazette/, which notified that on such a day and at such an
hour the foreign envoys had been admitted to an interview with the
Emperor. We all laughed over the silly story so sedulously spread by
the Chinese to every corner of the Empire, that our Minister's knees
had knocked together from terror when Phaeton-like he had obtained his
dangerous request; that he fell down flat in the very presence,
breaking all over into a profuse perspiration, and that the haughty
prince who had acted as his conductor chid him for his want of course,
bestowing upon him the contemptuous nickname of "chicken-feather."

[*] These are--bears' paws, deers' tail, ducks' tongues, torpedos'
roe, camels' humps, monkeys' lips, carps' tails, and beef-marrow.

Subsequently, in the spring of 1874, the late Emperor made his great
pilgrimage to worship at the tombs of his ancestors. He had previous
to his marriage performed this filial duty once, but the mausoleum
containing his father's bones was not then completed, and the whole
thing was conducted in a private, unostentatious manner. But on the
last occasion great preparations were made and vast sums spent (on
paper), that nothing might be wanting to render the spectacle as
imposing as money could make it. Royalty was to be seen humbly
performing the same hallowed rites which are demanded of every child,
and which can under no circumstances be delegated to any other person
as long as there is a son or a daughter living. The route along which
His Majesty was to proceed was lined with closely-packed crowds of
loyal subjects, eager to set eyes for once in their lives upon a being
they are taught to regard as the incarnation of divinity; and when the
Sacred Person really burst upon their view, the excitement was beyond
description. Young and old, women and children, fell simultaneously
upon their knees, and tears and sobs mingled with the blessings
showered upon His Majesty by thousands of his simple-minded,
affectionate people.

The next epoch in the life of this youthful monarch occurred a few
months ago. The Son of Heaven[*] had not availed himself of western
science to secure immunity from the most loathsome in the long
category of diseases. He had not been vaccinated, in spite of the
known prevalence of smallpox at Peking during the winter season. True,
it is but a mild form of smallpox that is there common; but it is easy
to imagine what a powerless victim was found in the person of a young
prince enervated by perpetual cooping in the heart of a city, rarely
permitted to leave the palace, and then only in a sedan-chair, called
out of his bed at three o'clock every morning summer or winter, to
transact business that must have had few charms for a boy, and
possessed of no other means of amusement than such as he could derive
from the society of his wife or concubines. Occasional bulletins
announced that the disease was progressing favourably, and latterly it
was signified that His Majesty was rapidly approaching a state of
convalescence. His death, therefore, came both suddenly and
unexpectedly; happily, at a time when China was unfettered by war or
rebellion, and when all the energies of her statesmen could be
employed in averting either one catastrophe or the other. For one
hundred days the Court went into deep mourning, wearing capes of white
fur with the hair outside over long white garments of various stuffs,
lined also with white fur, but of a lighter kind than that of the
capes. Mandarins of high rank use the skin of the white fox for the
latter, but the ordinary official is content with the curly fleece of
the snow-white Mongolian sheep. For one hundred days no male in the
Empire might have his head shaved, and women were supposed to eschew
for the same period all those gaudy head ornaments of which they are
so inordinately fond. At the expiration of this time the Court
mourning was changed to black, which colour, or at any rate something
sombre, will be worn till the close of the year.

[*] Such terms as "Brother of the Sun and Moon" are altogether
imaginary, and are quite unknown in China.

For twelve long months there may be no marrying or giving in marriage,
that is among the official classes; the people are let off more
easily, one hundred days being fixed upon as their limit. For a whole
year it is illegal to renew the scrolls of red paper pasted on every
door-post and inscribed with cherished maxims from the sacred books;
except again for non-officials, whose penance is once more cut down to
one hundred days' duration. In these sad times the birth of a son--a
Chinaman's dearest wish on earth--elicits no congratulations from
thronging friends; no red eggs are sent to the lucky parents, and no
joyous feast is provided in return. Merrymaking of all kinds is
forbidden to all classes for the full term of one year, and the
familiar sound of the flute and the guitar is hushed in every
household and in every street.[*] The ordinary Chinese visiting-card--
a piece of red paper about six inches by three, inscribed with its
owner's name in large characters--changes to a dusky brown; and the
very lines on letter paper, usually red, are printed of a dingy blue.
Official seals are also universally stamped in blue instead of the
vermilion or mauve otherwise used according to the rank of the holder.
Red is absolutely tabooed; it is the emblem of mirth and joy, and the
colour of every Chinese maiden's wedding dress. It is an insult to
write a letter to a friend or stranger on a piece of plain white paper
with black ink. Etiquette requires that the columns should be divided
by red lines; or, if not, that a tiny slip of red paper be pasted on
in recognition of the form. For this reason it is that all stamps and
seals in China are /red/--to enable tradesmen, officials, and others
to use any kind of paper, whether it has already some red about it or
not; and every foreigner in China would do well to exact on all
occasions the same formalities from his employes as they would
consider a matter of duty towards one of their own countrymen, however
low he might be in the social scale.

[*] Mencius. Book v., part ii., ch. 4.

Certain classes of the people will suffer from the observance of these
ceremonies far more severely than others. The peasant may not have his
head shaved for one hundred days--inconvenient, no doubt, for him, but
mild as compared with the fate of thousands of barbers who for three
whole months will not know where to look to gain their daily rice. Yet
there is a large section of the community much worse off than the
barbers, and this comprises everybody connected in any way with the
theatres. Their occupation is gone. For the space of one year neither
public nor private performance is permitted. During that time actors
are outcasts upon the face of the earth, and have no regular means of
getting a livelihood. The lessees of theatres have most likely
feathered their own nests sufficiently well to enable them to last out
the prescribed term without serious inconvenience; but with us, actors
are proverbially improvident, and even in frugal China they are no
exception to the rule.

Officials in the provinces, besides conforming to the above customs in
every detail, are further obliged on receipt of the "sad announcement"
to mourn three times a-day for three days in a particular chapel
devoted to that purpose. There they are supposed to call to mind the
virtues of their late master, and more especially that act of grace
which elevated each to the position he enjoys. Actual tears are
expected as a slight return for the seal of office which has enabled
its possessor to grow rich at the expense too often of a poor and
struggling population. We fancy, however, that the mind of the mourner
is more frequently occupied with thinking how many friends he can
count among the Imperial censors than in dwelling upon the
transcendent bounty of the deceased Emperor.

We sympathise with the bereaved mother who has lost her only child and
the hope of China; but on the other hand if there is little room for
congratulation, there is still less for regret. The nation has been
deprived of its nominal head, a vapid youth of nineteen, who was
content to lie /perdu/ in his harem without making an effort to do a
little governing on his own responsibility. During the ten years that
foreigners have resided within half a mile of his own apartments in
the palace at Peking, he has either betrayed no curiosity to learn
anything at all about them, or has been wanting in resolution to carry
out such a scheme as we can well imagine would have been devised by
some of his bolder and more vigorous ancestors. And now once more the
sceptre has passed into the hands of a child who will grow up, like
the late Emperor, amid the intrigues of a Court composed of women and
eunuchs, utterly unfit for anything like energetic government.

The splendid tomb which has been for the last twelve years in
preparation to receive the Imperial coffin, but which, according to
Chinese custom, may not be completed until death has actually taken
place, will witness the last scene in the career of an unfortunate
young man who could never have been an object of envy even to the
meanest of his people, and who has not left one single monument behind
him by which he will be remembered hereafter.


It is, perhaps, tolerably safe to say that the position of women among
the Chinese is very generally misunderstood. In the squalid huts of
the poor, they are represented as ill-used drudges, drawers of water
and grinders of corn, early to rise and late to bed, their path
through the vale of tears uncheered by a single ray of happiness or
hope, and too often embittered by terrible pangs of starvation and
cold. This picture is unfortunately true in the main; at any rate,
there is sufficient truth about it to account for the element of
sentimental fiction escaping unnoticed, and thus it comes to be
regarded as an axiom that the Chinese woman is low, very low, in the
scale of humanity and civilisation. The women of the poorer classes in
China have to work hard indeed for the bowl of rice and cabbage which
forms their daily food, but not more so than women of their own
station in other countries where the necessaries of life are dearer,
children more numerous, and a drunken husband rather the rule than the
exception. Now the working classes in China are singularly sober;
opium is beyond their means, and few are addicted to the use of
Chinese wine. Both men and women smoke, and enjoy their pipe of
tobacco in the intervals of work; but this seems to be almost their
only luxury. Hence it follows that every cash earned either by the man
or woman goes towards procuring food and clothes instead of enriching
the keepers of grog-shops; besides which the percentage of quarrels
and fights is thus very materially lessened. A great drag on the poor
in China is the family tie, involving as it does not only the support
of aged parents, but a supply of rice to uncles, brothers, and cousins
of remote degrees of relationship, during such time as these may be
out of work. Of course such a system cuts both ways, as the time may
come when the said relatives supply, in their turn, the daily meal;
and the support of parents in a land where poor-rates are unknown, has
tended to place the present high premium on male offspring. Thus,
though there is a great deal of poverty in China, there is very little
absolute destitution, and the few wretched outcasts one does see in
every Chinese town, are almost invariably the once opulent victims of
the opium-pipe or the gaming-table. The relative number of human
beings who suffer from cold and hunger in China is far smaller than in
England, and in this all-important respect, the women of the working
classes are far better off than their European sisters. Wife-beating
is unknown, though power of life and death is, under certain
circumstances, vested in the husband (Penal Code, S. 293); while, on
the other hand, a wife may be punished with a hundred blows for merely
striking her husband, who is also entitled to a divorce (Penal Code,
S. 315). The truth is, that these poor women are, on the whole, very
well treated by their husbands, whom they not unfrequently rule with
as harsh a tongue as that of any western shrew.

In the fanciful houses of the rich, the Chinese woman is regarded with
even more sympathy by foreigners generally than is accorded to her
humbler fellow-countrywoman. She is represented as a mere ornament, or
a soulless, listless machine--something on which the sensual eye of
her opium-smoking lord may rest with pleasure while she prepares the
fumes which will waft him to another hour or so of tipsy
forgetfulness. She knows nothing, she is taught nothing, never leaves
the house, never sees friends, or hears the news; she is,
consequently, devoid of the slightest intellectual effort, and no more
a companion to her husband than the stone dog at his front gate. Now,
although we do not profess much personal acquaintance with the
/gynecee/ of any wealthy Chinese establishment, we think we have
gathered quite enough from reading and conversation to justify us in
regarding the Chinese lady from an entirely different point of view.
In novels, for instance, the heroine is always highly
educated--composes finished verses, and quotes from Confucius; and it
is only fair to suppose that such characters are not purely and wholly
ideal. Besides, most young Chinese girls, whose parents are well off,
are taught to read, though it is true that many content themselves
with being able to read and write a few hundred words. They all learn
and excel in embroidery; the little knick-knacks which hang at every
Chinaman's waist-band being almost always the work of his wife or
sister. Visiting between Chinese ladies is of everyday occurrence, and
on certain fete-days the temples are crowded to overflowing with
"golden lilies"[*] of all shapes and sizes. They give little dinner-
parties to their female relatives and friends, at which they talk
scandal, and brew mischief to their hearts' content. The first wife
sometimes quarrels with the second, and between them they make the
house uncomfortably hot for the unfortunate husband. "Don't you
foreigners also dread the denizens of the inner apartments?" said a
hen-pecked Chinaman one day to us--and we think he was consoled to
hear that viragos are by no means confined to China. One of the
happiest moments a Chinese woman knows, is when the family circle
gathers round husband, brother, or it may be son, and listens with
rapt attention and wondering credulity to a favourite chapter from the
"Dream of the Red Chamber." She believes it every word, and wanders
about these realms of fiction with as much confidence as was ever
placed by western child in the marvellous stories of the "Arabian

[*] A poetical name for the small feet of Chinese women.


If there is one thing more than another, after the possession of the
thirteen classics, on which the Chinese specially pride themselves, it
is /politeness/. Even had their literature alone not sufficed to place
them far higher in the scale of mental cultivation than the unlettered
barbarian, a knowledge of those important forms and ceremonies which
regulate daily intercourse between man and man, unknown of course to
inhabitants of the outside nations, would have amply justified the
graceful and polished Celestial in arrogating to himself the proud
position he now occupies with so much satisfaction to himself. A few
inquiring natives ask if foreigners have any notion at all of
etiquette, and are always surprised in proportion to their ignorance
to hear that our ideas of ceremony are fully as clumsy and complicated
as their own. It must be well understood that we speak chiefly of the
educated classes, and not of "boys" and compradores who learn in a
very short time both to touch their caps and wipe their noses on their
masters' pocket-handkerchiefs. Our observations will be confined to
members of that vast body of men who pore day and night over the
"Doctrine of the Mean," and whose lips would scorn to utter the
language of birds.

And truly if national greatness may be gauged by the mien and carriage
of its people, China is without doubt entitled to a high place among
the children of men. An official in full costume is a most imposing
figure, and carries himself with great dignity and self-possession,
albeit he is some four or five inches shorter than an average
Englishman. In this respect he owes much to his long dress, which, by
the way, we hope in course of time to see modified; but more to a
close and patient study of an art now almost monopolised in Europe by
aspirants to the triumphs of the stage. There is not a single awkward
movement as the Chinese gentleman bows you into his house, or supplies
you from his own hand with the cup of tea so necessary, as we shall
show, to the harmony of the meeting. Not until his guest is seated
will the host venture to take up his position on the right hand of the
former; and even if in the course of an excited conversation, either
should raise himself, however slightly, from a sitting posture, it
will be the bounden duty of the other to do so too. No gentleman would
sit while his equal stood. Occasionally, where it is not intended to
be over-respectful to a visitor, a servant will bring in the tea, one
cup in each hand. Then standing before his master and guest, he will
cross his arms, serving the latter who is at his right hand with his
left hand, his master with the right. The object of this is to expose
the palm--in Chinese, the /heart/--of either hand to each recipient of
tea. It is a token of fidelity and respect. The tea itself is called
"guest tea," and /is not intended for drinking/. It has a more useful
mission than that of allaying thirst. Alas for the red-haired
barbarian who greedily drinks off his cupful before ten words have
been exchanged, and confirms the unfavourable opinion his host already
entertains of the manners and customs of the West! And yet a little
trouble spent in learning the quaint ceremonies of the Chinese would
have gained him much esteem as an enlightened and tolerant man. For
while despising us outwardly, the Chinese know well enough that
inwardly we despise them, and thus it comes to pass that a voluntary
concession on our part to any of their harmless prejudices is always
gratefully acknowledged. To return, "guest tea" is provided to be used
as a signal by either party that the interview is at an end. A guest
no sooner raises the cup to his lips than a dozen voices shout to his
chair-coolies; so, too, when the master of the house is prevented by
other engagements from playing any longer the part of host. Without
previous warning--unusual except among intimate acquaintances--this
tea should never be touched except as a sign of departure.

Strangers meeting may freely ask each other their names, provinces,
and even prospects; it is not so usual as is generally supposed to
inquire a person's age. It is always a compliment to an old man, who
is justly proud of his years, and takes the curious form of "your
venerable teeth?" but middle-aged men do not as a rule care about the
question and their answers can rarely be depended upon. A man may be
asked the number and sex of his children; also if his father and
mother are still "in the hall," i.e., alive. His wife, however, should
never be alluded to even in the most indirect manner. Friends meeting,
either or both being in sedan-chairs, stop their bearers at once, and
get out with all possible expedition; the same rule applies to
acquaintances meeting on horseback. Spectacles must always be removed
before addressing even the humblest individual--sheer ignorance of
which most important custom has often, we imagine, led to rudeness
from natives towards foreigners, where otherwise extreme courtesy
would have been shown. In such cases a foreigner must yield, or take
the chances of being snubbed; and where neither self-respect or
national dignity is compromised, we recommend him by all means to
adopt the most conciliatory course. Chinese etiquette is a wide field
for the student, and one which, we think, would well repay extensive
and methodical exploration.


The disadvantages of ignoring alike the language and customs of the
Chinese are daily and hourly exemplified in the unsatisfactory
relations which exist as a rule between master and servant. That the
latter almost invariably despise their foreign patrons, and are only
tempted to serve under them by the remunerative nature of the
employment, is a fact too well known to be contradicted, though why
this should be so is a question which effectually puzzles many who are
conscious of treating their native dependants only with extreme
kindness and consideration. The answer, however, is not difficult for
those who possess the merest insight into the workings of the Chinese
mind; for just as every inhabitant of the eighteen provinces believes
China to be the centre of civilisation and power, so does he infer
that his language and customs are the only ones worthy of attention
from native and barbarian alike. The very antagonism of the few
foreign manners and habits he is obliged by his position to cultivate,
tend rather to confirm him in his own sense of superiority than
otherwise. For who but a barbarian would defile the banquet hour "when
the wine mantles in the cups" with a /white/ table-cloth, the badge of
grief and death? How much more elegant the soft /red/ lacquer of the
"eight fairy" table, with all its associations of the bridal hour! The
host, too, at the /head/ of his own board, sitting in what should be
the seat of the most honoured guest, and putting the latter on his
/right/ instead of his left hand! Truly these red-haired barbarians
are the very scum of the earth.

By the time he has arrived at this conclusion our native domestic has
by a direct process of reasoning settled in his mind another important
point, namely, that any practice of the civilities and ceremonies
which Chinese custom exacts from the servant to the master, would be
entirely out of place in reference to the degraded being whom an
accidental command of dollars has invested with the title, though
hardly with the rights, of a patron. Consequently, little acts of
gross rudeness, unperceived of course by the foreigner, characterise
the everyday intercourse of master and servant in China. The house-boy
presents himself for orders, and even waits at table, in short clothes
--an insult no Chinaman would dare to offer to one of his own
countrymen. He meets his master with his tail tied round his head, and
passes him in the street without touching his hat, that is, without
standing still at the side of the street until his master has passed.
He lolls about and scratches his head when receiving instructions,
instead of standing in a respectful attitude with his hands at his
side in a state of rest; enters a room with his shoes down at heel, or
without socks; omits to rise at the approach of his master, mistress,
or their friends, and commits numerous other petty breaches of decorum
which would ensure his instant dismissal from the house of a Chinese
gentleman. We ourselves take a pride in making our servants treat us
with the same degree of outward respect they would show towards native
masters, and we believe that by strictly adhering to this system we
succeed in gaining, to some extent, their esteem. Inasmuch, however,
as foreign susceptibilities are easily shocked on certain points
ignored by Chinamen of no matter what social standing, we have found
it necessary to introduce a special Bill, known in our domestic circle
as the Expectoration Act. Now it is a trite observation that the
Chinese make capital soldiers if they are well commanded, and what is
the head of a large business establishment but the commander-in-chief
of a small army? The efficiency of his force depends far more upon the
moral agencies brought to bear than upon any system of rewards and
punishments human ingenuity can devise; for Chinamen, like other
mortals, love to have their prejudices respected, and fear of shame
and dread of ridicule are as deeply ingrained in their natures as in
those of any nation under the sun. They have a horror of blows, not so
much from the pain inflicted, as from the sense of injury done to
something more elevated than their mere corporeal frames; and a friend
of ours once lost a good servant by merely, in a hasty fit, /throwing
a sock at him/. We therefore think that, considering the vast extent
of the Chinese empire and its innumerable population, all of whom are
constructed mentally more or less on the same model, their language
and customs are deserving of more attention than is generally paid to
them by foreigners in China.


It is an almost universally-received creed that behind the suicidal
prejudices and laughable superstitions of the Chinese there is a
mysterious fund of solid learning hidden away in the uttermost
recesses--far beyond the ken of occidentals--of that /terra
incognita/, Chinese literature. Sinologues darkly hint at elaborate
treatises on the various sciences, impartial histories and candid
biographies, laying at the same time extraordinary stress on the
extreme difficulty of the language in which they are written, and
carefully mentioning the number (sometimes fabulous) of the volumes of
which each is composed. Hence, probably, it results that few students
venture to push their reading beyond novels, and remain during the
whole of their career in a state of darkness as to that literary
wealth of China which enthusiasts delight to compare with her
unexplored mines of metal and coal. Inasmuch, however, as it is not
absolutely necessary to read a book from beginning to end to be able
to form a pretty correct judgment as to its value, so, many students
who are sufficiently advanced to read a novel with ease and without
the help of a teacher, might readily gain an insight into a large
enough number of the most celebrated scientific or historical works to
enable them to comprehend the true worth of the whole of this vast
literature. For vast it undoubtedly is, though our own humble efforts
to appraise it justly, in comparison of course with the other
literatures of the world, brought upon us in the first hours of
discovery that some years of assiduous toil had been positively thrown
away. Sir W. Hamilton, if we recollect rightly, said that by so many
more languages as a man knows, by so many more times is he a man--an
apophthegm of but a shallow kind if all he meant to convey was that an
Englishman who can speak French is also a Frenchman by virtue of his
knowledge of the colloquial. The opening up of new fields of thought
through the medium of a new literature, is a result more worthy the
effort of acquiring a foreign language than sparkling in a /salon/
with the purest imaginable accent; and herein Sir W. Hamilton counted
without Chinese. The greater portion of the "Classics," cherished
tomes to which China thinks even now she owes her intellectual
supremacy over the rest of the world, is open through Dr Legge's
translation to all Englishmen, and those who run may read, weighing it
in the balance and determining its status among the ethical systems
either of the past or present. Had we found as much that is solid in
other departments of Chinese literature, as there is mixed up with the
occasional nonsense and obscurity of the Four Books, our protest would
have taken a milder form; as it is, we think it right to condemn any
and all random assertions which tend to strengthen in the minds of
those who have no opportunity of judging, the belief that China is
possessed of a vast and valuable literature, in which, for aught any
one knows to the contrary, there may lie buried gems of purest ray
serene. Can it be supposed that, if true, nothing of all this has yet
been brought to light? There have been, and are now, foreigners
possessing a much wider knowledge of Chinese literature than many
natives of education, but, strange to say, such translations as have
hitherto been given to the world have been chiefly confined to plays
and novels! We hold that all those whom tastes or circumstances have
led to acquire a knowledge of the Chinese language have a great duty
to perform, and this is to contribute each something to the scanty
quota of translations from Chinese now existing. Let us see what the
poets, historians, and especially the scientific men of China have
produced to justify so many in speaking as they have done, and still
do speak, of her bulky literature. Many, we think, will be deterred by
the grave nonsense or childish superstitions which they dare not
submit to foreign judges as the result of their labours in this
fantastic field; but to withhold such is to leave the public where it
was before, at the mercy of unscrupulous or crazed enthusiasts.

We were led into this train of thought by an article in the /North
China Daily News/ of 10th July 1874, in which the writer speaks of
China as "a luxuriant mental oasis amidst the sterility of Eastern
Asia," and "possessing a literature in vastness and antiquarian value
surpassed by no other." He goes on to say that the translations
hitherto made "have conveyed to us a faint notion of the compass,
variety, solidity, and linguistic beauties of that literature." Such
statements as these admit, unfortunately, of rhetorical support,
sufficient to convince outsiders that at any rate there are two sides
to the question, a conviction which could only be effectually
dispelled by placing before them a few thousand volumes translated
into English, and chosen by the writer of the article himself.[*]
When, however, our enthusiast deals with more realisable facts, and
says that in China "there is no organised book trade, nor publishers'
circulars, nor Quaritch's Catalogues, nor any other catalogues whether
of old or new books for sale," we can assure him he knows nothing at
all about the matter; that there is now lying on our table a very
comprehensive list of new editions of standard works lately published
at a large book-shop in Wu-chang Fu, with the price of each work
attached; and that Mr Wylie, in his "Notes on Chinese Literature,"
devotes five entire pages to the enumeration of some thirty well-known
and voluminous catalogues of ancient and modern works.

[*] Baron Johannes von Gumpach. Died at Shanghai, 31st July 1875.


A ramble through a native town in China must often have discovered to
the observant foreigner small collections of second-hand books and
pamphlets displayed on some umbrella-shaded stall, or arranged less
pretentiously on the door-step of a temple. If innocent of all claims
to a knowledge of the written language, he may take them for cheap
editions of Confucius, with which literary chair-coolies are wont to
solace their leisure hours; at the worst, some of these myriad novels
of which he has heard so much, and read--in translations--so little.
It possibly never enters our barbarian's head that many of these
itinerant book-sellers are vendors of educational works, much after
the style of Pinnock's Catechisms and other such guides to knowledge.
Buying a handful the other day for a few cash,[*] we were much amused
at the nature of the subjects therein discussed, and the manner in
which they were treated. The first we opened was on Ethnology and
Zoology, and gave an account of the wonderful types of men and beasts
which exist in far-off regions beyond the pale of China and
civilisation. There was the long-legged nation, the people of which
have legs three /chang/ (thirty feet) long to support bodies of no
more than ordinary size, followed by a short account of a cross-legged
race, a term which explains itself. We are next told of a country
where all the inhabitants have a large round hole right through the
middle of their bodies, the officials and wealthy citizens being
easily and comfortably carried /a la/ sedan chair by means of a strong
bamboo pole passed through it. Then there is the feathered or bird
nation, the pictures of which people remind us very much of Lapps and
Greenlanders. A few lines are devoted to a pygmy race of nine-inch
men, also to a people who walk with their bodies at an angle of 45
degrees. There is the one-armed nation, and a three-headed nation,
besides fish-bodied and bird-headed representatives of humanity; last
but not least we have a race of beings without heads at all, their
mouth, eyes, nose, &c., occupying their chests and pit of the stomach!

"And of the cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders."

The little work which contains the above valuable information was
published in 1783, and has consequently been nearly one hundred years
before an enlightened and approving public.

[*] About 24 cash go to a penny.

Not to dwell upon the remaining portion, devoted to Zoology, and
containing wonderful specimens of various kinds of animals and birds
met with by travellers beyond the Four Seas, we would remark that the
geography of the world, notwithstanding some very fair existing
treatises, is little studied by Chinese at the present day. More works
on topography have been written in Chinese than in probably any other
language, but to say that even these are read is quite another matter.
Geography, properly so called, is almost entirely neglected, and in a
rather extensive circle of literary acquaintances, it has never been
our fortune to meet with a single scholar acquainted with the useful
publications of Catholic or Protestant missionaries--the latter have
not contributed much--except perhaps the mutilated edition of
Verbiest's little handbook.

To describe one is to give a fair idea of all such native works for
the diffusion of knowledge. We found in our little parcel a complete
guide (save the mark!) to the /Fauna/ and /Flora/ of the Celestial
Empire, besides a treatise headed "Philosophy for the Young," in which
children are shown that to work for one's living is better than to be
idle, and that the strength of three men is powerless against /Li/.
Now as /Li/ means "abstract right," and as it is an axiom of Chinese
philosophy that "right in the abstract" does exist, we are gravely
informed that neither the moral or physical violence of any three men
acting in concert can hope to prevail against it. So much for the
state of education in China at the present day, the remedy for which
unwholesome condition will by no means readily be found. From time to
time a few scientific treatises are translated by ambitious members of
the missionary body, but such only tend to swell the pastor's fame
amongst his own immediate flock: they do not advance civilisation one
single step. The very fact of their emanating from a missionary would
of itself be enough to deter the better class of Chinese from
purchasing, or even accepting them as a gift.[*]

[*] "The principal priest . . . declined the gift of some Christian
books."--From /Glimpses of Travel in the Middle Kingdom/,
published in the /Celestial Empire/ of July 3d, 1875.


Roaming in quest of novelty through that mine of marvels, a Chinese
city, we were a witness the other day of a strange but not uncommon
scene. We had halted in front of the stall of a street apothecary,
surgeon, and general practitioner, and were turning over with our eyes
his stock of simples, dragons' teeth, tigers'-claws, and like drugs
used as ingredients in the native pharmacopoeia, when along came a
man, holding his hand up to his jaw, and apparently in great pain. He
sat down by the doctor and explained to him that he was suffering with
the toothache, to get rid of which he would like to have his tooth
removed. The doctor opened his patient's mouth and inspected the
aching tooth; then he took a small phial from his stock of medicines,
and into the palm of his hand he shook a few scruples of a pink-
coloured powder. He next licked his finger and dipped it into the
powder, and inserting this into the man's mouth, rubbed it on the
aching tooth and gum. He repeated this three or four times, and then
concluded by turning the patient's head upside down; when, to the no
small astonishment of many of the bystanders, among whom was
apparently the man himself, the tooth dropped out and fell upon the
ground. The doctor then asked him if he had felt any pain, to which he
replied that he had not, and the payment of a small fee brought the
/seance/ to a close. At our application the tooth was picked up and
very civilly exhibited to us by the owner himself; it was evidently
fresh from a human jaw, though there had not been the slightest
effusion of blood from the man's mouth. The thought had naturally
suggested itself to us that the whole thing was a hoax, and that the
patient was an accomplice; but if so, the doctor was no novice at
sleight of hand, and the expression of astonishment on the other man's
face when he found his tooth gone, was as perfect a specimen of
histrionic emotion as it has ever been our lot to behold.

That night we had visions of a large establishment in Regent Street,
with an enormous placard announcing "Painless Dentistry" over the
door, and crowds of dukes and duchesses mounting and descending our
stairs to have their teeth extracted by some mysterious process
imported from China, and known to ourselves alone. Next day we
proceeded to rummage through our Chinese medical library and see what
we could hunt up on the subject of dentistry. The result of this
search we generously offer to our readers, thus, perhaps, sacrificing
the chance of securing a colossal fortune.

In the "New Collection of Tried Prescriptions," a sort of domestic
medicine published for the use of families in cases of emergency when
no physician is at hand, we find the following remarks:--

Method for Extracting Aching Teeth.

"A tooth ought not to be taken out, for by doing so the remaining
teeth will be loosened. If the pain is very acute and interferes
with eating or drinking, then the tooth may be extracted;
otherwise, it should be left. Take a bream about ten ounces in
weight, rip it open and insert 1/10 of an ounce of powdered
arsenic. Then sew up the body and hang it up in the wind where it
is not exposed to the sun or accessible to cats and rats. After
being thus hung for seven days, a kind of hoar-frost will have
formed upon the scales of the fish. Preserve this, using for each
tooth about as much as covers one scale. When required, spread it
on a piece of any kind of plaster, press it with the finger on to
the aching place, and let it stick there. Then let the patient
cough, and the tooth will fall out of itself. This prescription
has been tested by Dr. Wang."

Another Method.

"Take a head of garlic and pound it up to a pulp. Mix it up
thoroughly with one or two candareens' weight of white dragon's
bones, and apply it to the suffering part. In a little while the
tooth will drop out."

It will be noticed that the above descriptions are neither without one
or other of two characteristics always to be found in the composition
of Chinese remedies. In the first recipe, the ingredients are simple
enough, and all this is required is time, seven days being necessary
for its preparation. Now, as it is very unlikely that any one would
collect the "hoar-frost" deposit from the scales of a bream stuffed
with arsenic, in anticipation of a future toothache, and as he would
probably have got well long before the expiration of the seven days if
he set to work to make his medicine only when the tooth began to ache,
the genius of the physician and the efficacy of the recipe are alike
secure from attack. In the second case, the very existence of one of
the drugs mentioned is, to say the least, apocryphal; and although
such can be purchased at the shops of native druggists, any complaint
on the part of a duped patient would be met by the simple answer, that
the white dragon's bones he bought could not possibly have been

A few days after the above incident, we returned to the dentist's
stall, and asked him if he had any powder that would draw out a tooth
by mere application to the gum or to the tooth itself? He replied that
such a powder certainly existed, and was commonly manufactured in all
parts of China, but that he himself was out of it at the moment. He
added, that if we would call again on the 4th of the 4th moon, before
12 o'clock in the day, he should be in a position to satisfy our

In conclusion, we append a quotation from the /China Review/, which
appeared in print after our own sketch was written:--

"Despite the oft-repeated assertion as to painless, or at least
easy, dentistry in China, very few people seem prepared to admit
that teeth are constantly extracted in the way described by (I
think) a former correspondent of the /Review/. He stated that a
white powder was rubbed on the gums of the patient, after which
the tooth was easily pulled from its socket; and this I can
substantiate, noting, however, that the action of the powder
(corrosive sublimate) is not quite so rapid as represented. A
short time since I witnessed an operation of this kind. The
operator rubbed the powder on the gum as described, but then
directed the patient to wait a little. After perhaps ten minutes'
interval, he again rubbed the gum, and then, introducing his thumb
into the mouth, pressed heavily against the tooth (which was a
large molar). The man winced for a second as I heard the 'click'
of the separation, but almost before he could cry out, the dentist
gripped the tooth with his forefinger and thumb, and with very
little violence pulled it out. The gum bled considerably, and I
examined the tooth so as to satisfy myself that there was no
deception. It had an abscess at the root of the fang, and was
undoubtedly what it professed to be. When the operation was over,
the patient washed his mouth out with /cold/ water, paid fifteen
cash and departed."


In spite of the glowing reports issued annually from various foreign
hospitals for natives, and the undeniable good, though desultory and
practically infinitesimal, that is being worked by these institutions,
we cannot blind ourselves to the fact that western medical science is
not making more rapid strides than many other innovations in the great
struggle against Chinese prejudice and distrust. By far the majority
of our servants and those natives who come most in contact with
foreigners never dream of consulting a European doctor; or if they do,
that is quite as much as can be said, for we may pronounce it a fact
that they never take either his advice or his medicine. They still
prefer to appear with large dabs of green plaster stuck on either
temple, and to drink loathsome concoctions of marvellous drugs,
compounded according to eternal principles laid down many centuries
ago. In serious cases, when they employ their own doctors, they are
apt to mark, as Bacon said, the hits but not the misses; and failure
of human skill is generally regarded as resulting from the
interposition of divine will. Directly, however, a foreigner comes
upon the scene they forget at once that medicine is an uncertain
science, and expect not only a sure but an almost instantaneous
recovery; and, unfortunately, a single failure is quite enough to undo
the good of many months of successful practice. One Chinaman bitterly
complained to us of a foreign doctor, and sweepingly denounced the
whole system of western treatment, because the practitioner alluded to
had failed to cure his mother, aged eighty, of a very severe paralytic
stroke. A certain percentage of natives are annually benefited by
advice and medicine, both of which are provided gratis, and go home to
tell the news and exhibit themselves as living proofs of the /foreign
devils'/ skill; but in many instances their friends either believe
that magical arts have been brought to bear, or that after all a
Chinese doctor would have treated the case with equal success, and
accordingly the number of patients increases in a ratio very
disproportionate to the amount of good really effected. Besides, if
faith in European doctors was truly spreading to any great extent, we
should hear of wealthy Chinamen regularly calling them in and
contributing towards the income of those now in full practice at the
Treaty ports. It is absurd to point to isolated cases in a nation of
several hundred millions, and argue that progress is being made
because General This or Prefect That consented to have an abscess
lanced by a foreign surgeon, and sent him a flowery letter of thanks
with a couple of Chinese hams after the operation. The Chinese as a
people laugh at our medical science, and, we are bound to say, with
some show of justice on their side. They have a medical literature of
considerable extent, and though we may condemn it wholesale as a
farrago of utter nonsense, it is not so to the Chinese, who fondly
regard their knowledge in this branch of science as one among many
precious heirlooms which has come down to them from times of the
remotest antiquity.

We alluded in the last Sketch to a work in eight small volumes called
"New Collection of Tried Prescriptions," a book which answers to our
"Domestic Medicine," and professes to supply well-authenticated
remedies for some of the most common ills that flesh is heir to. This
book gives a fair idea of the principles and practice of medical
science in China. It is divided into sections and subdivided into
chapters under such headings as the /eye/, the /teeth/, the /hand/,
the /leg/, &c. &c. We gave a specimen of the prescriptions herein
brought together in our late remarks upon the methods of extracting
teeth, but it would be doing an injustice to the learning of its
author if we omitted to point out that in this book remedies are
provided, not only for such simple complaints as chilblains or the
stomach-ache, but for all kinds of serious complications arising from
the evil influence of demons or devils. One whole chapter is devoted
to "Extraordinary Diseases," and teaches anxious relatives to give
instant relief in cases of "the face swelling as big as a peck
measure, and little men three feet long appearing in the eyes."
"Seeing one thing as if it were two," would hardly be classed by
London doctors as an extraordinary disease, and is not altogether
unknown even amongst foreigners in China. "Seeing things upside down
after drinking wine," belongs in the same category, and may be cited
in proof of a position take up by most observers, namely, that the
Chinese are a sober people. "Seeing kaleidoscopic views which turn to
beautiful women," "the flesh becoming hard as a stone and sounding
like a bell when tapped," "objecting to eat in company," and such
diseases have each a special prescription offered by the learned Dr
Wang with the utmost gravity, and accepted in good faith by many a
confiding patient.

Chinamen look with suspicion on the sober treatment of the West, where
no joss-stick is burnt, and no paper money is offered on the altar of
some favourite P'u-sa; though, if they knew the whole truth, they
would discover that intercessory prayers for the recovery of sick
persons are considered by many of us to be of equal importance with
the administration of pills and draughts. Further, like our own
agricultural classes, they have no faith in medicine of any kind which
does not make its presence felt not only quickly but powerfully. This
last desire was amply fulfilled in the case of one poor coolie who
applied to an acquaintance of ours for some foreign medicine to cure a
sick headache and bilious attack from which he was suffering. Our
friend immediately bethought himself of a Seidlitz powder; but when
all was ready, the acid in one wine-glass of water and the salt in
another, the devil entered into him, and he gave them to his victim to
drink one after the other. The result was indescribable, for the
mixture /fizzed inside/, and the unfortunate coolie passed such a
/mauvais quart d'heure/ as effectually to cure his experimenting
master from any further indulgence in practical jokes of so extremely
dangerous a nature.


Luxuriating in the "mental oasis" of Chinese literature in general,
and the "New Collection of Tried Prescriptions" in particular, we have
been tempted to carry our researches still further in that last-
mentioned valuable work. It would have been sufficient to establish
the reputation of any European treatise on medical science had it
contained one such simple and efficacious method for extracting teeth
as we gave in our chapter on Dentistry; but Chinese readers are not so
easily satisfied, and it takes something more than mere remedies for
coughs, colds, lumbago, or the gout, to ensure a man a foremost place
among the Galens of China. Even a chapter on "Extraordinary Diseases,"
marvellous indeed in the eyes of the sceptical barbarian, is not
enough for the hungry native mind; and nothing less than a whole
section of the most miraculous remedies and antidotes, for and against
all kinds of unheard-of diseases and poisons, would suffice to stamp
the author as a man of genius, and his work as the offspring of
successful toil in the fields of therapeutic science. Thus it comes
about that the author of the "New Collection of Tried Prescriptions"
gathers together at the close of his last volume such items of
experience in his professional career as he has not been able to
introduce into the body of his book, and from this chapter we purpose
to glean a few of the most striking passages.

To begin with: Mr Darwin will be delighted to hear, if this should
ever meet his eye, that the growth of tails among mankind in China is
not limited to the appendage of hair which reposes gracefully on the
back, and saturates with grease the outer garment of every high or low
born Celestial. Elongation of the spine is, at any rate, common enough
for Dr Wang to treat it as a disease and specify the remedy, which
consists in tying a piece of medicated thread tightly round it, and
tightening the thread from time to time until the tail drops off. In
order, however, to guard against its growing again, a course of
medicine has to be taken, whereby any little irregularities of the
/yin/ or female principle[*] may be corrected, and the unpleasant
tendency at once and for ever checked.

[*] The symbol of the /yin/ and the /yang/, or male and female
principles, has been used in the beading of the cover to this
volume. The dark half is the /yin/, the other the /yang/.

We then come to elaborate directions for the extirpation of all kinds
of parasites, white ants, mosquitoes, &c.; but judging from the
plentiful supply of such pests in every part of China, we can only
conclude that the natives are apathetic as regards these trifles, and
do not suffer the same inconvenience therefrom as the more delicately-
nurtured barbarian. The next heading would somewhat astonish us,
accustomed as we are to the vagaries of Chinese book-makers, were it
not that the section upon which we are engaged is supposed to contain
"miscellaneous" prescriptions, which may include anything, though it
is a somewhat abrupt transition for a grave medical work to pass from
the destruction of insects to a remedy against /fires/!

"Take three fowl's-eggs, and write at the big end of each the word
/warm/, at the small end the word /beautiful/. Then throw them singly
to the spot where the fire is burning brightest, uttering all the time
'fooshefahrun, fooshefahrun.' The fire will then go out." There are
several other methods, but perhaps this one will be found to answer
the purpose.

Further on we find a most practicable way for pedestrians of
discovering the right direction to pursue at a cross road. "Carry with
you a live tortoise, and when you come to a cross road and do not know
which one to choose, put down the tortoise and follow it. Thus you
will not go wrong." For people who are afraid of seeing bogies at
night, the following is recommended:--"With the middle finger of the
right hand trace on the palm of the left hand the words /I am a
devil/, and close your hand up tight. You will then be able to travel
without fear." Sea-sickness may be prevented by drinking the drippings
from a bamboo punt-pole mixed with boiling water, or by inserting a
lump of burnt mortar from a stove into the hair, without letting
anybody know it is there; also by writing the character /earth/ on the
palm of the hand previous to going on board ship. Ivory may be cleaned
to look like new by using the whey of bean-curd, and rice may be
protected from weevils and maggots by inserting the shell of a crab in
the place where it is kept. The presence of bad air in wells may be
detected by letting a fowl's feather drop down; if it falls straight,
the air is pure; if it circles round and round, poisonous. Danger may
be averted by throwing in a quantity of hot vinegar before descending.
A fire may be kept alight from three to five days without additional
fuel by merely putting a walnut among the live ashes; and a method is
also given to make a candle burn many hours with hardly any
perceptible decrease in size.

We close Dr Wang's "New Collection of Tried Prescriptions" with
mingled feelings of admiration and regret: admiration, not indeed for
the genius of its author, or any new light which may have been let in
upon us during our study of this section of the "mental oasis" of
Chinese literature, but for the indomitable energy and skill of those
who have helped to emancipate us from similar trammels of ignorance
and folly; regret, that a nation which carries within its core the
germs of a transcendent greatness should still remain sunk in the
lowest depths of superstitious gloom.


In a country where money is only obtainable at such an exorbitant rate
of interest as in China, it is but natural that some attempt should be
made to obviate the necessity of appealing to a professional money-
lender. Three per cent. per month is the maximum rate permitted by
Chinese law, which cannot be regarded as excessive if the full risk of
the lender is taken into consideration. He has the security of one or
more "middlemen," generally shopkeepers whose solvency is
unimpeachable; but these gentlemen may, and often do, repudiate their
liability without deigning to explain either why or wherefore. His
course is then not so plain as it ought to be under a system of
government which has had some two thousand years to mature. Creditors
as well as debtors shun the painted portals of the magistrate's
yamen[*] as they would the gates of hell. Above them is traced the
same desperate legend that frightened the soul of Dante when he stood
before the entrance to the infernal regions. Truly there is no hope
for those who enter here. Both sides are /squeezed/ by the gate-keeper
--a very lucrative post in all yamens--before they are allowed to
present their petitions. It then becomes necessary for plaintiff and
defendant alike to go through the process of (in Peking slang) "making
a slit," i.e., making a present of money to the magistrate and his
subordinates proportionate to the interests involved. In many yamens
there is a regular scale of charges, answering to our Table of Fees,
but this is almost always exceeded in practice. The case is then
heard: occasionally, on its merits. We say occasionally, because nine
times out of ten one of the parties bids privately for the benefit of
his honour's good opinions. Sometimes both suitors do this, and then
judgment is knocked down to the highest bidder. The loser departs
incontinently cursing the law and its myrmidons to the very top of his
bent, and perhaps meditating an appeal to a higher court, from which
he is only deterred by prospects of further expense and repeated
failure. As to the successful litigant, he would go on his way
rejoicing, but that he has a duty to perform before which he is not a
free man. The "slit" he made on entering the yamen needs to be
repaired, and on him devolves the necessity of "sewing it up." The
case is then at an end, and the prophecy fulfilled, which says:--

"The yamen doors are open wide
To those with /money/ on their side."

[*] Official and private residence, all in one.

Wiser and more determined creditors take the law into their own hands.
With a tea-pot, a pipe, and a mattress, they proceed to the shop of
the recalcitrant debtor or security as circumstances may dictate, and
there take up their abode until the amount is paid. If inability to
meet the debt has been pleaded, then this self-made bailiff will
insist on taking so much per cent. out of the daily receipts; if it is
a mere case of obstinacy, a desire to shirk a just responsibility, the
place is made so hot for its owner that he is glad to get rid of his
visitor at any price whatever. Were manual violence resorted to, the
interference of the local officials would be absolutely necessary; and
in all cases where personal injuries are an element, their action is
not characterised by the same tyranny and corruption as where only
property is at stake. The chances are that the aggressor would come
off worst.

To protect themselves, however, from such a prohibitive rate of usury
as that mentioned above, Chinese merchants are in the habit of
combining together and forming what are called Loan Societies for the
mutual benefit of all concerned. Such a society may be started in the
first instance by a deposit of so much per member, which sum, in the
absence of a volunteer, is handed over to a manager, elected by a
throw of dice, whose business it is to lay out the money during the
ensuing month to the best possible advantage. Frequently one of the
members, being himself in want of funds, will undertake the job; and
he, in common with all managers, is held responsible for the safety of
the loan. At the end of the month there is a meeting at which the past
manager is bound to produce the entire sum entrusted to his charge,
together with any profits that may have accrued meanwhile. Another
member volunteers, or is elected manager, and so the thing goes on, a
running fund from which any member may borrow, paying interest at a
very low rate indeed. Dividends are never declared, and consequently
some of these clubs are enormously rich; but any member is at liberty
to withdraw whenever he likes, and he takes with him his share of all
moneys in the hands of the Society at the moment of his retirement. To
outsiders, the market rate of interest is charged, or perhaps a trifle
less, but loans are only made upon the very best securities.


In every large Chinese city are to be found several spacious buildings
which are generally reckoned among the sights of the place, and are
known by foreigners under the name of guilds. Globe-trotters visit
them, and admire the maximum of gold-leaf crowded into the minimum of
space, their huge idols, and curious carving; of course passing over
those relics which the natives themselves prize most highly, namely,
sketches and scrolls painted or written by the hand of some departed
celebrity. Foreign merchants regard them with a certain amount of awe,
for they are often made to feel keenly enough the influence which
these institutions exert over every branch of trade. They come into
being in the following manner. If traders from any given province
muster in sufficient numbers at any of the great centres of commerce,
they club together and form a guild. A general subscription is first
levied, land is bought, and the necessary building is erected.
Regulations are then drawn up, and the tariff on goods is fixed, from
which the institution is to derive its future revenue. For all the
staples of trade there are usually separate guilds, mixed
establishments being comparatively rare. It is the business of the
members as a body to see that each individual contributes according to
the amount of merchandise which passes through his hands, and the
books of suspected defaulters are often examined at a moment's notice
and without previous warning. The guild protects its constituents from
commercial frauds by threatening the accused with legal proceedings
which an individual plaintiff would never have dared to suggest; and
the threat is no vain one when a mandarin, however tyrannical and
rapacious, finds himself opposed by a body of united and resolute men.
On the other hand, these guilds deal fairly enough with their own
members, and not only refuse to support a bad case, but insist on just
and equitable dealings with the outside world. To them are frequently
referred questions involving nice points of law or custom, and one of
the chief functions of a guild is that of a court of arbitration. In
addition to this they fix the market rates of all kinds of produce,
and woe be to any one who dares to undersell or otherwise disobey the
injunctions of the guild. If recalcitrant, he is expelled at once from
the fraternity, and should his hour of need arrive he will find no
helping hand stretched out to save him from the clutches of the law.
But if he acknowledges, as he almost always does, his breach of faith,
he is punished according to the printed rules of the corporation. On a
large strip of red paper his name and address are written, the offence
of which he has been convicted, and the fine which the guild has
determined to impose. This latter generally takes the form of a dinner
to all members, to be held on some appointed day and accompanied by a
theatrical entertainment, after which the erring brother is admitted
as before to the enjoyment of those rights and privileges he would
otherwise infallibly have lost.

On certain occasions, such as the birthday of a patron saint, the
guild spends large sums from the public purse in providing a banquet
for its members and hiring a theatrical troupe, with their everlasting
tom-toms, to perform on the permanent stage to be found in every one
of these establishments. The Anhui men celebrate the birthday of Chu
Hsi, the great commentator, whose scholarship has won eternal honours
for his native province; Swatow men hold high festival in memory of
Han Wen-Kung, whose name is among the brightest on the page of Chinese
history. All day long the fun goes on, and as soon as it begins to
grow dusk innumerable paper lanterns are hung in festoons over the
whole building. The crowd increases, farce succeeds farce without a
moment's interval, and many a kettle of steaming wine warms up the
spectators to the proper pitch of enthusiasm and delight. Before
midnight the last song has been sung, a considerable number of people
have quietly dispersed without accident of any kind, and the courtyard
of the guild is once more deserted and still.

It is open to any trader to join the particular institution which
represents his own province or trade without being either proposed,
seconded, or balloted for. He is expected to make some present to the
resources of the guild, in the shape of a new set of glass lanterns, a
pair of valuable scrolls, some new tables, chairs, or in fact anything
that may be needed for either use or ornament. Should he be in want of
money, a loan will generally be issued to him even on doubtful
security. Should he die in an impoverished condition, a coffin is
always provided, the expenses of burial undertaken, and his wife and
children sent to their distant home, with money voted for that purpose
at a general meeting of the members. Were it not for the action of
these guilds in regard to fire, life and property in Chinese cities
would be more in danger than is now the case. Each one has its own
fire-engine, which is brought out at the first alarm, no matter where
or whose the building attacked. If belonging to one of themselves, men
are posted round the scene of the conflagration to prevent looting on
the part of the crowd, and the efforts of the brigade are stimulated
by the reflection that their position and that of the present
sufferers may at any moment be reversed. Picked men are appointed to
perform the most important task of all, that of rescuing from the
flames relics more precious to a respectable Chinaman than all the
jade that K'un-kang has produced. For it often happens that an
obstructive geomancer will reject site after site for the interment of
some deceased relative, or perhaps that the day fixed upon as a lucky
one for the ceremony of burial may be several months after death.
Meanwhile a fire breaks out in the house where the body lies in its
massive, air-tight coffin, and all is confusion and uproar. The first
thought is for the corpse; but who is to lift such a heavy weight and
carry it to a place of safety without the dreaded jolting, almost as
painful to the survivors as would be cremation itself? Such harrowing
thoughts are usually cut short by the entrance of six or eight sturdy
men from the nearest guild, who, armed with the necessary ropes and
poles, bear away the coffin through flame and smoke with the utmost
gentleness and care.


Few probably among our readers have had much experience on the subject
of the present sketch--a Chinese pawnshop. Indeed, for others than
students of the manners and customs of China, there is not much that
is attractive in these haunts of poverty and vice. The same mighty
misery, which is to be seen in England passing in and out of
mysterious-looking doors distinguished by a swinging sign of three
golden balls, is not wanting to the pawnshop in China, though the act
of pledging personal property in order to raise money is regarded more
in the light of a business transaction than it is with us, and less as
one which it is necessary to conceal from the eyes of the world at
large. Nothing is more common than for the owner of a large wardrobe
of furs to pawn them one and all at the beginning of summer and to
leave them there until the beginning of the next winter. The
pawnbrokers in their own interest take the greatest care of all
pledges, which, if not redeemed, will become their own property,
though they repudiate all claims for damage done while in their
possession; and the owner of the goods by payment of the interest
charged is released from all trouble and annoyance.

Pawnshops in China are divided into three classes, one of which has
since the days of the T'ai-p'ings totally disappeared from all parts
over which the tide of rebellion passed. This is the /tien tang/,
where property could be left for three years without forfeit, and to
establish which it was necessary to obtain special authority from the
Board of Revenue in Peking. At present there are the /chih tang/ and
the /ssu ya/, both common to all parts of China, and to these we shall
confine our remarks. The former, which may be considered as the
pawnshop proper, is a private institution as far as its business is
concerned, but licensed on payment of a small fee by the local
officials, and regulated in its workings by certain laws which emanate
from the Emperor himself. A limit of sixteen months is assigned,
within which pledges must be redeemed or they become the property of
the pawnbroker; and the interest charged, formerly four per cent., is
now fixed at three per cent. /per month/. Before the license above-
mentioned can be obtained, security must be provided for the existence
of sufficient capital to guard against a sudden or a fraudulent
collapse. For any article not forthcoming when the owner desires to
redeem it, double the amount of the original loan is recoverable from
the pawnbroker. Should any owner of a pledge chance to lose his ticket
by theft or otherwise, he may proceed to the pawnshop with two
substantial securities, and if he can recollect the number, date, and
amount of the transaction, another ticket is issued to him with which
he may recover his property at once, or at any time within the
original sixteen months. Pawn-tickets are not unseldom offered as
pledges, and are readily received, as the loan is never more than half
the value of the deposit; and tickets thus obtained are often sold
either to a third person or perhaps to the pawnbroker who issued them
in the first instance. Formerly, when the interest payable was four
per cent. per month, it was a standing rule that during the last three
months in every year, i.e., the winter season, pledges might be
redeemed at a diminished rate, so that poor people should have a
better chance of getting back their wadded clothes to protect them
from the inclemency of frost and cold. But since the rate of interest
has been reduced to three per cent. this custom has almost passed
away; its observance is, however, sometimes called for by a special
proclamation of the local magistrate when the necessaries of life are
unusually dear, and the times generally are bad. The following is a
translation of a ticket issued by one of these shops, which may often
be recognised in a Chinese city by the character for /pawn/ painted on
an enormous scale in some conspicuous position:--"In accordance with
instructions from the authorities, interest will be charged at the
rate of three per cent. [per month] for a period of sixteen months, at
the expiration of which the pledge, if not redeemed, will become the
property of the pawnbroker, to be disposed of as he shall think fit.
All damages to the deposit arising from war, the operations of nature,
insects, rats, mildew, &c., to be accepted by both sides as the will
of Heaven. Deposits will be returned on presentation of the proper
ticket without reference to the possession of it by the applicant."
Besides this, the name and address of the pawnshop, a number,
description of the article pledged, amount lent, and finally the date,
are entered in their proper places upon the ticket, which is stamped
as a precaution against forgery with the private stamp of the
pawnshop. Jewels are not received as pledges, and gold and silver only
under certain restrictions.

The other class is not recognised by the authorities, and its very
existence is illegal, though of course winked at by a venial
executive. Shops of this kind, which may be known by the character for
/keep/, are very much frequented by the poor. A more liberal loan is
obtainable than at the licensed pawnbroker's, but on the other hand
the rate of interest charged is very much more severe. Pledges are
only received for three months, and on the ticket issued there is no
stipulation about damage to the deposit. No satisfaction is to be got
in case of fraud or injustice to either side: a magistrate would
refuse to hear a case either for or against one of these unlicensed
shops. They carry on their trade in daily fear of the rowdies who
infest every Chinese town, granting loans to these ruffians on
valueless articles, which in many cases are returned without payment
either of interest or principal, thereby securing themselves from the
disturbances which "bare poles" who have nothing to lose are ever
ready to create at a moment's notice, and which would infallibly hand
them over to the clutches of hungry and rapacious officials. The
counters over which all business is transacted are from six to eight
feet high, strongly made, and of such a nature that to scale them
would be a very difficult matter, and to grab anything with the view
of making a bolt for the street utterly and entirely impossible. In a
Chinese city, where there is no police force to look after the safety
of life and property, and where everybody prefers to let a thief pass
rather than risk being called as a witness before the magistrate, it
becomes necessary to guard against such contingencies as these. As
things are now, pawnshops may be considered the most flourishing
institutions in the country; and in these establishments many even of
the highest officials invest savings squeezed from the districts
entrusted to their paternal care.


Many residents in China are profoundly ignorant of the existence of a
native postal service; and even the few who have heard of such an
institution, are not aware of the comparative safety and speed with
which even a valuable letter may be forwarded from one end of the
Empire to the other. Government despatches are conveyed to their
destinations by a staff of men specially employed for the purpose, and
under the control of the Board of War in Peking. They ride from
station to station at a fair pace, considering the sorry, ill-fed nags
upon which they are mounted; important documents being often carried
to great distances, at a rate of two hundred miles a-day. The people,
however, are not allowed to avail themselves of this means of
communication, but the necessities of trade have driven them to
organise a system of their own.

In any Chinese town of any pretensions whatever, there are sure to be
several "letter offices," each monopolising one or more provinces, to
and from which they make it their special business to convey letters
and small parcels. The safety of whatever is entrusted to their care
is guaranteed, and its value made good if lost; at the same time, the
contents of all packets must be declared at the office where posted,
so that a corresponding premium may be charged for their transmission.
The letter-carriers travel chiefly on foot, sometimes on donkeys, to
be found on all the great highways of China, and which run with
unerring accuracy from one station to another, unaccompanied by any
one except the hirer. There is little danger of the donkeys being
stolen, unless carried off bodily, for heaven and earth could no more
move them from their beaten track than the traveller who, desirous of
making two stages without halting, could induce them to pass the door
of the station they have just arrived at. Carrying about eighty or
ninety pounds weight of mail matter, these men trudge along some five
miles an hour till they reach the extent of their tether; there they
hand over the bag to a fresh man, who starts off, no matter at what
hour of the day or night, and regardless of good or bad weather alike,
till he too has quitted himself of his responsibility by passing on
the bag to a third man. They make a point of never eating a full meal;
they eat themselves, as the Chinese say, six or seven tenths full,
taking food as often as they feel at all hungry, and thus preserve
themselves from getting broken-winded early in life. Recruited from
the strongest and healthiest of the working-classes, it is above all
indispensable that the Chinese letter-carrier should not be afraid of
any ghostly enemy, such as bogies or devils. In this respect they must
be tried men before they are entrusted with a mail; for an ordinary
Chinaman is so instinctively afraid of night and darkness, that the
slightest rustle by the wayside would be enough to make him fling down
the bag and take to his heels as if all the spirits of darkness had
been loosed upon him at one and the same moment.

The scale of charges is very low. The cost of sending a letter from
Peking to Hankow--650 miles, as the crow flies--being no more than
eight cents, or four pence. About thirty per cent. of the postage is
always paid by the sender, to secure the office against imposition and
loss; the balance is recoverable from the person to whom the letter is
addressed. These offices are largely used by merchants in the course
of trade, and bills of exchange are constantly being thus sent, while
the banks forward the foil or other half to the house on which it is
drawn, receipt of which is necessary before the draft can be cashed.
Such documents, together with small packets of sycee, make up a
tolerably valuable bag, and would often fall a prey to the highwaymen
which infest many of the provinces, but that most offices anticipate
these casualties by compounding for a certain annual sum which is paid
regularly to the leader of the gang. For this blackmail the robbers of
the district not only agree to abstain from pilfering themselves, but
also to keep all others from doing so too. The arrangement suits the
local officials admirably, as they escape those pains and penalties
which would be exacted if it came to be known that their rule was too
weak, and their example powerless to keep the district free from the
outrages of thieves and highwaymen. Large firms, which supply carts to
travellers between given points, are also often in the habit of
contracting with the brigands of the neighbourhood for the safe
passage of their customers. In some parts soldiers are told off by the
resident military officials to escort travellers who leave the inns
before daybreak, until there is enough light to secure them against
the dangers of a sudden attack. In others, there are bands of trained
men who hire themselves out in companies of three to five to convey a
string of carts with their dozen passengers across some dangerous part
of the country, where it is known that foot-pads are on the look-out
for unwary travellers. The escort consists of this small number only,
for the reason that each man composing it is supposed to be equal to
five or six robbers, not in mere strength, but in agility and
knowledge of sword-exercise. To accustom themselves to the attacks of
numbers, and to acquire the requisite skill in fighting more than one
adversary at a time, these men practise in the following remarkable
manner. In a lofty barn heavy bags of sand are hung in a circle by
long ropes to the roof, and in the middle of these the student takes
up his position. He then strikes one of the bags a good blow with his
fist, sending it flying to a distance from him, another in the same
way, then another, and so on until he has them all swinging about in
every possible direction. By the time he has hit two or three it is
time to look out for the return of the first, and sometimes two will
come down on him at once from opposite quarters; his part is to be
ready for all emergencies, and keep the whole lot swinging without
ever letting one touch him. If he fails in this, he must not aspire to
escort a traveller over a lonesome plain; and, besides, the ruthless
sand-bag will knock him head over heels into the bargain.


Although native scholars in China have not deemed it worth while to
compile such a work as the "Slang Dictionary," it is no less a fact
that slang occupies quite as important a position in Chinese as in any
language of the West. Thieves have their /argot/, as with us,
intelligible only to each other; and phrases constantly occur, even in
refined conversation, the original of which can be traced infallibly
to the kennel. /Why so much paint?/ is the equivalent of /What a swell
you are!/ and is specially expressive in China, where beneath a
flowered blue silk robe there often peeps out a pair of salmon-
coloured inexpressibles of the same costly material. /They have put
down their barrows/, means that certain men have struck work, and is
peculiarly comprehensible in a country where so much transport is
effected in this laborious way. Barrows are common all over the
Empire, both for the conveyance of goods and passengers; and where
long distances have to be traversed, donkeys are frequently harnessed
in front. The traditional sail is also occasionally used: we ourselves
have seen barrows running before the wind between Tientsin and Taku,
of course with a man pushing behind. /The children have official
business/, is understood to mean they are laid up with the small-pox;
the metaphor implying that their /turn/ has come, just as a turn of
official duty comes round to every Manchu in Peking, and in the same
inevitable way. Vaccination is gradually dispelling this erroneous
notion, but the phrase we have given is not likely to disappear.

A magistrate who has /skinned the place clean/, has extorted every
possible cash from the district committed to his charge--a "father and
mother" of the people, as his grasping honour is called. /That horse
has a mane/, says the Chinese housebreaker, speaking of a wall well
studded at the top with pieces of broken glass or sharp iron spikes.
/You'll have to sprinkle so much water/, urges the friend who advises
you to keep clear of law, likening official greed to dust, which
requires a liberal outlay of water in the shape of banknotes to make
it lie. A /flowery bill/ is understood from one end of China to the
other as that particular kind in which our native servants delight to
indulge, namely, an account charging twice as much for everything as
was really paid, and containing twice as much in quantity as was
actually supplied. A /flowery suit/ is a case in which women play a
prominent part. /You scorched me yesterday/ is a quiet way of
remarking that an appointment was broken, and implying that the rays
of the sun were unpleasantly hot. /Don't pick out the sugar/ is a very
necessary injunction to a servant sent to market to buy food, &c., the
metaphor being taken from a kind of sweet dumpling consumed in great
quantities by rich and poor alike. Another phrase is, /Don't ride the
donkey/, which may be explained by the proverbial dislike of Chinamen
for walking exercise, and the temptation to hire a donkey, and squeeze
the fare out of the money given them for other purposes. /That house
is not clean inside/, signifies that devils and bogies, so dreaded by
the Chinese, have taken up their residence therein; in fact, that the
house is haunted. /He's all rice-water/, i.e., gives one plenty of the
water in which rice has been boiled, but none of the rice itself, is
said of a man who promises much and does nothing. /One load between
the two/ is very commonly said of two men who have married two
sisters. In China, a coolie's "load" consists of two baskets or
bundles slung with ropes to the end of a flat bamboo pole about five
feet in length, and thus carried across the shoulder. Hence the
expression. Apropos of marriage, /the guitar string is broken/, is an
elegant periphrasis by which it is understood that a man's wife is
dead, the verb "to die" being rarely used in conversation, and never
of a relative or friend. He will not /put a new string to his guitar/
is, of course, a continuation of the same idea, more coarsely
expressed as /putting on a new coat/. His father has been /gathered to
the west/--a phrase evidently of Buddhistic import--/is no more, has
gone for a stroll, has bid adieu to the world/, may all be employed to
supply the place of the tabooed verb, which is chiefly used of animals
and plants. After a few days' illness /he kicked/, is a vulgar way of
putting it and analogous to the English slang idiom. The Emperor
/becomes a guest on high/, riding up to heaven on the dragon's back,
with flowers of rhetoric ad nauseam; Buddhist priests /revolve into
emptiness/, i.e., are annihilated; the soul of the Taoist priest
/wings its flight away/.

/Only a candle-end left/ is said of an affair which nears completion;
/red/ and /white matters/ are marriages and deaths, so called from the
colour of the clothes worn on these important occasions. A blushing
person /fires up/, or literally, /ups fire/, according to the Chinese
idiom. To be fond of /blowing/ resembles our modern term /gassing/. A
/lose-money-goods/ is a daughter as compared with a son who can go out
in the world and earn money, whereas a daughter must be provided with
a dowry before any one will marry her. A more genuine metaphor is a
/thousand ounces of silver/; it expresses the real affection Chinese
parents have for their daughters as well as their sons. To /let the
dog out/ is the same as our letting the cat out; to /run against a
nail/ is allied to kicking against the pricks. A man of superficial
knowledge is called /half a bottle of vinegar/, though why vinegar, in
preference to anything else, we have not been able to discover. He has
always /got his gun in his hand/ is a reproach launched at the head of
some confirmed opium debauchee, one of those few reckless smokers to
whom opium is indeed a curse. They have /burnt paper together/, makes
it clear to a Chinese mind that the persons spoken of have gone
through the marriage service, part of which ceremony consists in
burning silver paper, made up to resemble lumps of the pure metal. /We
have split/ is one of those happy idioms which lose nothing in
translation, being word for word the same in both languages, and with
exactly the same meaning. /A crooked stick/ is a man whose
eccentricities keep people from associating freely with him; he won't
lie conveniently in a bundle with the other sticks.

We will bring this short sketch to a close with one more example,
valuable because it is old, because the date at which it came into
existence can be fixed with unerring certainty, and because it is
commonly used in all parts of China, though hardly one educated man in
ten would be able to tell the reason why. A jealous woman is said /to
drink vinegar/, and the origin of the term is as follows:--Fang Hsuan-
ling was the favourite Minister of the Emperor T'ai Tsung, of the
T'ang dynasty. He lived A.D. 578-648. One day his master gave him a
maid of honour from the palace as second wife, but the first or real
wife made the place too hot for the poor girl to live in. Fang
complained to the Emperor, who gave him a bowl of poison, telling him
to offer his troublesome wife the choice between death and peaceable
behaviour for the future. The lady instantly chose the former, and
drank up the bowl of /vinegar/, which the Emperor had substituted to
try her constancy. Subsequently, on his Majesty's recommendation, Fang
sent the young lady back to resume her duties as tire-woman to the
Empress. But the phrase lived, and has survived to this day.


Everybody who has frequented the narrow, dirty streets of a Chinese
town must be familiar with one figure, unusually striking where all is
novel and much is grotesque. It is that of an old man, occasionally
white-bearded, wearing a pair of enormous spectacles set in clumsy
rims of tortoiseshell or silver, and sitting before a small table on
which are displayed a few mysterious-looking tablets inscribed with
characters, paper, pencils, and ink. We are in the presence of a
fortune-teller, a seer, a soothsayer, a vates; or better, a quack who
trusts for his living partly to his own wits, and partly to the want
of them in the credulous numskulls who surround him. These men are
generally old, and sometimes blind. Youth stands but a poor chance
among a people who regard age and wisdom as synonymous terms; and it
seems to be a prevalent belief in China that those to whom everything
in the present is a sealed book, can for this very reason see deeper
and more clearly into the destinies of their fellows. It is not until
age has picked out the straggling beard with silver that the
vaticinations of the seer are likely to spread his reputation far
beyond the limits of the street in which he practises. Younger
competitors must be content to scrape together a precarious existence
by preying on the small fry which pass unheeded through the meshes of
the old man's net. Just as there is no medical diploma necessary for a
doctor in China, so any man may be a fortune-teller who likes to start
business in that particular line. The ranks are recruited generally
from unsuccessful candidates at the public examinations; but all that
is really necessary is the minimum of education, some months' study of
the art, and a good memory. For there really are certain principles
which guide every member of the fraternity. These are derived from
books written on the subject, and are absolutely essential to success,
or nativities cast in two different streets would be so unlike as to
expose the whole system at once. The method is this. A customer takes
his seat in front of the table and consults the wooden tablet on which
is engraved a scale of charges as follows:--

Foretelling any single event . . . . . . . . 8 cash
Foretelling any single event with joss-stick, 16 cash
Telling a fortune . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 cash
Telling a fortune in detail . . . . . . . . . 50 cash
Telling a fortune by reading the stars . . . 50 cash
Fixing the marriage day . . . . . . . According to agreement

In case he merely wants an answer on a given subject, he puts his
question and receives the reply at once on a slip of paper. But if he
desires to have his fortune told, he dictates the year, month, day,
and hour of his birth, which are written down by the sage in the
particular characters used by the Chinese to express times and
seasons. From the combinations of these and a careful estimate of the
proportions in which the five elements--gold, wood, water, fire, and
earth--make their appearance, certain results are deduced upon which
details may be grafted according to the fancy of the fortune-teller.
The same combinations of figures, i.e., characters, will always give
the same resultant in the hands of any one who has learned the first
principles of his art; it is only in the reading, the explanation
thereof, that any material difference can be detected between the
reckonings of any two of these philosophers, which amounts to saying
that whoever makes the greatest number of happy hits beyond the mere
technicalities common to all, is esteemed the wisest prophet and will
drive the most flourishing trade.

Fully believing in the Chinese household word which says "Ignorance of
any one thing is always one point to the bad," we have several times
read our destiny through the medium of some dirty old Chinaman. On the
last occasion we received the following advice in return for our 50
cash, paid as per tablet for a destiny in detail:--"Beware the odd
months of this year: you will meet with some dangers and slight
losses. Three male phoenixes (sons) will be accorded to you. Your
present lustrum is not a fortunate one; but it has nearly expired, and
better days are at hand. Fruit cannot thrive in the winter. (We had
placed our birthday in the 12th moon.) Conflicting elements oppose:
towards life's close prepare for trials. Wealth is beyond your grasp;
but nature has marked you out to fill a lofty place." How the above
was extracted from the eight characters which represented the year,
month, day, and hour of our birth, is made perfectly clear by a sum
showing every step in the working of the problem, though we must
confess it appeared to us a humbugging jumble, the most prominent part
of which was the answer. We found among other things that /earth/
predominated in the combination: hence our inability to grasp wealth.
/Water/ was happily deficient, and on this datum we were blessed in
anticipation with three sons, to say nothing of daughters.

And this is the sort of trash that is crammed down the throats of
China's too credulous children--the "babies," as the Mandarins are so
fond of calling them. For this rubbish they freely spend their hard-
earned wages, consulting some favourite prophet on most of their
domestic and other affairs with the utmost gravity and confidence. Few
Chinamen make a money venture without first applying to the oracle,
and certainly never marry without arranging a lucky day for the event.
Ignorance and credulity combine to support a numerous class of the
most consummate adepts in the art of swindling; the supply, however,
is not more than adequate to the demand, albeit they swarm in every
street and thoroughfare of a Chinese city.


Chinamen suffer horribly from /ennui/--especially the first of the
four classes into which the non-official world has been subdivided.[*]
They have no rational amusements wherewith to fill up the intervals of
work. They hate physical exercise; more than that, they despise it as
fit only for the ignorant and low. Yet they have not supplied its
place with anything intellectual, and the most casual observer cannot
fail to notice that China has no national game. Fencing, rowing, and
cricket, are alike unknown; and archery, such as it is, claims the
attention chiefly of candidates for official honours. Within doors
they have chess, but it is not the game Europeans recognise by that
name, nor is it even worthy of being mentioned in the same breath.
There is also another game played with three hundred and sixty black
and white pips on a board containing three hundred and sixty-one
squares, but this is very difficult and known only to the few. It is
said to have been invented by His Majesty the Emperor Yao who lived
about two thousand three hundred and fifty years before Christ, so
that granting an error of a couple of thousand years or so, it is
still a very ancient pastime. Dominoes are known, but not much
patronised; cards, on the other hand, are very common, the favourite
games being those in which almost everything is left to chance. As to
open-air amusements, youths of the baser sort indulge in battledore
and shuttlecock without the battledore, and every resident in China
must have admired the skill with which the foot is used instead, at
this foot-shuttlecock game. Twirling heavy bars round the body, and
gymnastics generally, are practised by the coolie and horse-boy
classes; but the disciple of Confucius, who has already discovered how
"pleasant it is to learn with a constant perseverance and
application,"[+] would stare indeed if asked to lay aside for one
moment that dignified carriage on which so much stress has been laid
by the Master. Besides this, finger-nails an inch and a half long,
guarded with an elaborate silver sheath, are decidedly /impedimenta/
in the way of athletic success. No,--when the daily quantum of reading
has been achieved, a Chinese student has very little to fall back upon
in the way of amusement. He may take a stroll through the town and
look in at the shops, or seek out some friend as /ennuye/ as himself,
and while away an hour over a cup of tea and a pipe. Occasionally a
number of young men will join together and form a kind of literary
club, meeting at certain periods to read essays or poems on subjects
previously agreed upon by all. We heard of one youth who, burning for
the poet's laurel, produced the following quatrain on /snow/, which
had been chosen as the theme for the day:--

The north-east wind blew clear and bright,
Each hole was filled up smooth and flat:
The black dog suddenly grew white,
The white dog suddenly grew--

"And here," said the poet, "I broke down, not being able to get an
appropriate rhyme to /flat/." A wag who was present suggested /fat/,
pointing out that the dog's increased bulk by the snow falling on his
back fully justified the meaning, and, what is of equal importance in
Chinese poetry, the antithesis.

[*] Namely, (1) the literati, (2) agriculturists, (3) artisans, and
(4) merchants or tradesmen.

[+] The first sentence of the Analects or Confucian Gospels.

Riddles and word-puzzles are largely used for the purpose of killing
time, the nature of the written language offering unlimited facilities
for the formation of the latter. Chinese riddles, by which term we
include conundrums, charades, /et hoc genus omne/, are similar to our
own, and occupy quite as large a space in the literature of the
country. They are generally in doggerel, of which the following may be
taken as a specimen, being like the last a word-for-word

Little boy red-jacket, whither away?
To the house with the ivory portals I stray.
Say will you come back, little red-coat, again?
My bones will return, but my flesh will remain.

In the present instance the answer is so plain that it is almost
insulting to our readers to mention that it is "a cherry," but this is
by no means the case with all Chinese riddles, many being exceedingly
difficult of solution. So much so that it is customary all over the
Empire to copy out any particularly puzzling conundrum on a paper
lantern, and hang it in the evening at the street door, with the
promise of a reward to any comer who may succeed in unravelling it.
These are called "lamp riddles," and usually turn upon the name of
some tree, fruit, animal, or book, the direction in which the answer
is to be sought being usually specified as a clue.

Were it only in such innocent pastimes as these that the Chinese
indulged, we might praise the simplicity of their morals, and contrast
them favourably with the excitement of European life. But there is
just one more little solace for leisure, and too often business hours,
of which we have not yet spoken. Gambling is, of course, the
distraction to which we allude; a vice ten times more prevalent than
opium-smoking, and proportionately demoralising in its effect upon the
national character. In private life, there is always some stake
however small; take it away, and to a Chinaman the object of playing
any game goes too. In public, the very costermongers who hawk cakes
and fruit about the streets are invariably provided with some means
for determining by a resort to chance how much the purchaser shall
have for his money. Here, it is a bamboo tube full of sticks, with
numbers burnt into the concealed end, from which the customer draws;
at another stall dice are thrown into an earthenware bowl, and so on.
Every hungry coolie would rather take his chance of getting nothing at
all, with the prospect of perhaps obtaining three times his money's
worth, than buy a couple of sausage-rolls and satisfy his appetite in
the legitimate way. The worst feature of gambling in China is the
number of hells opened publicly under the very nose of the magistrate,
all of which drive a flourishing trade in spite of the frequent
/presents/ with which they are obliged to conciliate the venal
official whose duty it is to put them down. To such an extent is the
system carried that any remissness on the part of the keepers of these
dens in conveying a reasonable share of the profits to his honour's
treasury, is met by /a brutum fulmen/ in the shape of a proclamation,
setting forth how "it having come to my ears that, regardless of law,
and in the teeth of my frequent warnings, certain evil-disposed
persons have dared to open public gambling-houses, be it hereby made
known," &c., &c., the whole document being liberally interspersed with
allusions to the men of old, the laws of the reigning dynasty, and
filial piety /a discretion/. The upshot of this is that within twenty-
four hours after its appearance his honour's wrath is appeased, and
croupiers and gamblers go on in the same old round as if nothing
whatever had happened.


Law,[*] as we understand the term, with all its paradoxes and
refinements, is utterly unknown to the Chinese, and it was absolutely
necessary to invent an equivalent for the word "barrister," simply
because no such expression was to be found ready-made in the language.
Further, it would be quite impossible to persuade even the most
enlightened native that the Bar is an honourable profession, and that
its members are men of the highest principles and integrity. They
cannot get it out of their heads that western lawyers must belong to
the same category as a certain disreputable class among themselves, to
be met with in every Chinese town of importance, and generally
residing in the vicinity of a magistrate's or judge's yamen. These
fellows are always ready to undertake for a small remuneration the
conduct of cases, in so far as they are able to do this by the
preparation of skilfully-worded petitions or counter-petitions, and by
otherwise giving their advice. Of course they do not appear in court,
for their very existence is forbidden, but their services are largely
availed of by the people, especially the poor and ignorant. At the
trial, prosecutor and accused must each manage his own case, the
magistrate himself doing all the cross-examination. We say
/prosecutor/ and /accused/ advisedly, for as a matter of fact civil
cases are rare in China, such questions as arise in the way of trade
being almost invariably referred to some leading guild, whose
arbitration is accepted without appeal. Now, we know of no such book
as "Laws of Evidence" in the whole range of Chinese literature; yet we
believe firmly that the intellects which adorn our own bench are not
more keen in discriminating truth from falsehood, and detecting at a
glance the corrupt witness, than the semi-civilised native functionary
--that is, when no silver influences have been brought to bear upon
his judgment. The Chinese have a penal code which, allowing for the
difference in national customs and habits of thought, stands almost
unrivalled; and with this solitary work their legal literature begins
and ends. It is regarded by the people as an inspired book, though few
know much beyond the title, and seems to answer its purpose well.

[*] Civil law.

But inasmuch as in China as elsewhere /summum jus/ is not infrequently
/summa injuria/, a clever magistrate never hesitates to set aside law
or custom, and deal out Solomonic justice with an unsparing hand,
provided always he can shew that his course is one which /reason/
infallibly dictates. Such an officer wins golden opinions from the
people, and his departure from the neighbourhood is usually signalised
by the presentation of the much-coveted testimonial umbrella. In the
reign of the last Emperor but one, less than twenty years ago, there
was an official of this stamp employed as "second Prefect" in the
department of Han-yang. Many and wonderful are the stories told of his
unerring acumen, and his memory is still fondly cherished by all who
knew him in his days of power. We will quote one from among numerous
traditions of his genius which have survived to the present day.

A poor man, passing through one of the back thoroughfares in Hankow,
came upon a Tls. 50[*] note lying in the road and payable to bearer.
His first impulse was to cash it, but reflecting that the sum was
large and that the loser might be driven in despair to commit suicide,
the consequences of which might be that he himself would perhaps get
into trouble, he determined to wait on the spot for the owner and rest
content with the "thanks money" he was entitled by Chinese custom to
claim as a right. Very shortly he saw a stranger approaching, with his
eyes bent on the ground, evidently in search of something; whereupon
he made up to him and asked at once if anything was the matter.
Explanations followed, and the Tls. 50 note was restored to its lawful
possessor, who, recovering himself instantaneously, asked where the
other one was, and went on to say that he had lost /two/ notes of the
same value, and that on recovery of the other one he would reward the
finder as he deserved, but that unless that was also forthcoming he
should be too great a loser as it was. His benefactor was protesting
strongly against this ungenerous behaviour when the "second Prefect"
happened to come round the corner, who, seeing there was a row,
stopped his chair, and inquired there and then into the merits of the
case. The result was that he took the Tls. 50 note and presented it to
the honest finder, telling him to go on his way rejoicing; while,
turning to the ungrateful loser, he sternly bade him wait till he met
some one who had found /two/ notes of that value, and from him
endeavour to recover his lost property.

[*] Fifty taels, equal to about 15 pounds.


From the previous sketch it may readily be gathered that the state of
Chinese law, both civil[*] and criminal, is a very important item in
the sum of those obstacles which bar so effectually the admission of
China--not into the cold and uncongenial atmosphere euphuistically
known as the "comity of nations"--but into closer ties of
international intercourse and friendship on a free and equal footing.
For as long as we have ex-territorial rights, and are compelled to
avail ourselves thereof, we can regard the Chinese nation only /de
haut en bas/; while, on the other hand, our very presence under such,
to them abnormal conditions, will continue to be neither more or less
than a humiliating eye-sore. Till foreigners in China can look with
confidence for an equitable administration of justice on the part of
the mandarins, we fear that even science, with all its resources, will
be powerless to do more than pave the way for that wished-for moment
when China and the West will shake hands over all the defeats
sustained by the one, and all the insults offered to the other.

[*] That is, local custom.

It is in the happily unfrequent cases of homicide where a native and a
foreigner play the principal parts, that certain discrepancies between
Chinese and Western law, rules of procedure and evidence, besides
several other minor points, stand out in the boldest and most
irreconcilable relief. To begin with, the Penal Code and all its
modifications of murder, answering in some respects to our distinction
between murder and manslaughter, is but little known to the people at
large. Nay, the very officials who administer these laws are generally
as grossly ignorant of them as it is possible to be, and in every
judge's yamen in the Empire there are one or two "law experts," who
are always prepared to give chapter and verse at a moment's notice,--
in fact, to guide the judge in delivering a proper verdict, and one
such as must meet with the approbation of his superiors. The people,
on the other hand, know but one leading principle in cases of murder--
a life for a life. Under extenuating circumstances cases of homicide
are compromised frequently enough by money payments, but if the
relatives should steadily refuse to forego their revenge, few
officials would risk their own position by failing to fix the guilt
somewhere. As a rule, it is not difficult to obtain the conviction and
capital punishment of any native, or his substitute, who has murdered
a foreigner, and we might succeed equally well in many instances of
justifiable homicide or manslaughter: it is when the case is reversed
that we call down upon our devoted heads all the indignation of the
Celestial Empire. Of course any European who could be proved to have
murdered a native would be hanged for it; but he may kill him in self-
defence or by accident, in both of which instances the Chinese would
clamour for the extreme penalty of the law. Further, /hearsay/ is
evidence in a Chinese court of justice, and if several witnesses
appeared who could only say that some one else told them that the
accused had committed the murder, it would go just as far to
strangling or beheading him, as if they had said they saw the deed
themselves. The accused is, moreover, not only allowed to criminate
himself, but no case being complete without a full confession on the
part of the guilty man, torture might be brought into play to extort
from him the necessary acknowledgment. It is plain, therefore, that
Chinese officials prosecuting on behalf of their injured countrymen,
are quite at sea in an English court, and their case often falling
through for want of proper evidence, they return home cursing the
injustice done to them by the hated barbarians, and longing for the
day which will dawn upon their extermination from the Flowery Land.

On the other hand, the examination of Chinese witnesses, either in a
civil or criminal case, is one of the most trying tests to which the
forbearance of foreign officials is exposed in all the length and
breadth of their intercourse with the slippery denizens of the middle
kingdom. Leaving out of the question the extreme difficulty of the
language, now gradually yielding to methodical and persevering study,
the peculiar bent of the Chinese mind, with all its prejudices and
superstitions, is quite as much an obstacle in the way of eliciting
truth as any offered by the fantastic, but still amenable, varieties
of Chinese syntax. We believe that native officials have the power,
though it does not always harmonise with their interests to exercise
it, of arriving at as just and equitable decisions in the majority of
cases brought before them, as any English magistrate who knows
"Taylor's Law of Evidence" from beginning to end. They accomplish this
by a knowledge of character, unparalleled perhaps in any country on
the globe, which enables them to distinguish readily, and without such
constant recourse to torture as is generally supposed, between the
false and honest witness. The study of mankind in China is, beyond all
doubt--man and his motives for action on every possible occasion, and
under every possible condition. Thus it is, we may remark, that the
Chinese fail to appreciate the efforts made for their good by
missionaries and others, because the motives of such a course are
utterly beyond the reach of native investigation and thought. They are
consequently suspicious of the Greeks--/et dona ferentes/. The self-
denial of missionaries who come out to China to all the hardships of
Oriental life--though, as a facetious writer in the /Shanghai Courier/
lately remarked, they live in the best houses, and seem to lead as
jolly lives as anybody else out here--to say nothing of gratuitous
medical advice and the free distribution of all kinds of medicine--all
this is entirely incomprehensible to the narrow mind of the
calculating native. Their observations have been confined to the
characters and habits of thought which distinguish their fellow-
countrymen, and with the result above-mentioned; of the European mind
they know absolutely nothing.

As regards the evidence of Chinese taken in a foreign court of
justice, the first difficulty consists generally in swearing the
witnesses. Old books on China, which told great lies without much
danger of conviction, mention cock-killing and saucer-breaking as
among the most binding forms of Chinese oaths. The common formula,
however, which we consider should be adopted in preference to any
hybrid expression invented for the occasion, is an invocation to
heaven and earth to listen to the statements about to be made, and to
punish the witness for any deviation from the truth. This is sensible
enough, and is moreover not without weight among a superstitious
people like the Chinese. The witness then expects the magistrate to
ask him the name of his native district, his own name, his age, the
age of his father and mother (if alive), the maiden name of his wife,
her age, the number and the ages of his children, and many more
questions of similar relevancy and importance, before a single effort
is made towards eliciting any one fact bearing upon the subject under
investigation. With a stereotyped people like the Chinese, it does not
do to ignore these trifles of form and custom; on the contrary, the
witness should rather be allowed to wander at will through such
useless details until he has collected his scattered thoughts, and may
be safely coaxed on to divulge something which partakes more of the
nature of evidence. Under proper treatment, a Chinese witness is by no
means doggedly stubborn or doltishly stupid; he may be either or both
if he has previously been tampered with by native officials, but even
then it is not absolutely impossible to defeat his dishonesty.
Occasionally a question will be put by a foreigner to an
unsophisticated boor, never dreamt of in the philosophy of the latter,
and such as would never have fallen from the lips of one of his own
officials; the answers given under such circumstances are usually
unique of their kind. We know of an instance where a boatman was
asked, in reference to a collision case, at what rate he thought the
tide was running. The witness hesitated, looked up, down, on either
side, and behind him; finally he replied:--"I am a poor boatman; I
only earn one hundred and fifty cash a day, and how can you expect me
to know at what rate the tide was running?"


There are few more loathsome types of character either in the East or
West than the Buddhist priest of China. He is an object of contempt to
the educated among his countrymen, not only as one who has shirked the
cares and responsibilities to which all flesh is heir, but as a
misguided outcast who has voluntarily resigned the glorious title and
privileges of that divinely-gifted being represented by the symbol
/man/. With his own hands he has severed the five sacred ties which
distinguish him from the brute creation, in the hope of some day
attaining what is to most Chinamen a very doubtful immortality. Paying
no taxes and rendering no assistance in the administration of the
Empire, his duty to his sovereign is incomplete. Marrying no wife, his
affinity, the complement of his earthly existence, sinks into a
virgin's grave. Rearing no children, his troubled spirit meets after
death with the same neglect and the same absence of cherished rites
which cast a shadow upon his parents' tomb. Renouncing all fraternal
ties, he deprives himself of the consolation and support of a
brother's love. Detaching himself from the world and its vanities,
friendship spreads its charms for him in vain. Thus he is in no
Chinese sense a man. He has no name, and is frequently shocked by some
western tyro in Chinese who, thinking to pay the everyday compliment
bandied between Chinamen, asks to his intense disgust--"What is your
honourable name?" The unfortunate priest has substituted a "religious

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