Chinese Sketches by Herbert A. Giles

Etext prepared by John Bickers, and Dagny, CHINESE SKETCHES by HERBERT A. GILES “The institutions of a despised people cannot be judged with fairness.” Spencer’s Sociology: The Bias of Patriotism. DEDICATION To Warren William de la Rue, “As a mark of friendship.” PREFACE The following /Sketches/ owe their existence chiefly to frequent peregrinations
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Etext prepared by John Bickers, and Dagny,



“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 Nights.”

[*] 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 genuine!

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 demands.

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 translation:–

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