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EARLY EUROPEAN INTERCOURSE,
China little known to the Ancients--Embassy from Marcus Antoninus
Nestorian Christians-Arabian Travellers-Ibn Batuta-Jews in China -First Catholic Missions to Tartary-Travels of Marco Polo-Portuguese reach China-Previous to arrival of Europeans, Chinese less disinclined to foreign intercourse-Settlemeut of Macao-Fruitless Embassies to Peking-Catholic Missions-Quarrels of the Jesuits with the other Orders-Persecutions-Spaniards Dutch settle on Formosa-Expelled by Chinese-Russian Embassies.
It is intended in the following pages to give such an account of the manners and customs, the social, political, and religious institutions, together with the natural productions, the arts, manufactures, and commerce of China, as may be deemed interesting to the general reader. The most fitting introduction to this sketch will be, a cursory view of the early acquaintance of the western world with the country of which we are about to treat, followed up by some notices of the more modern intercourse of Europeans, and particularly the English, with the Chinese.
Antiquity affords us but a few uncertain hints regarding an empire so far removed to the utmost limits of Eastern Asia as to have formed no part in the aspirations of Macedonian or of Roman dominion. Were a modern conqueror to stop on the banks of the Ganges, and sigh that he had no more nations to subdue, what has been admired in the pupil of
Aristotle himself would be a mere absurdity in the most ignorant chieftain of these more enlightened times. We may reasonably hope that the science and civilization which have already so greatly enlarged the bounds of our knowledge of foreign countries, may, by diminishing the vulgar admiration for such pests and scourges of the human race, as military conquerors have usually proved, advance and facilitate the peaceful intercourse of the most remote countries with each other, and thereby increase the general stock of knowledge and happiness among mankind.
It seems sufficiently clear that the Seres mentioned by Horace, and other Latin writers, were not the Chinese*. This name has, with greater probability, been interpreted as referring to another people of Asia, inbabiting a country to the westward of China; and the texture, termed by the Romans serica, in all likelihood meant a cotton rather than a silken manufacture, which latter was distinguished by the name bombycina. There appears sufficient evidence, however, for the fact that some of the ancients were not altogether ignorant of the existence of such a people. Arrian speaks of the Sinæ, or Thinæ, in the remotest parts of Asia, by whom were exported the raw and manufactured silks which were brought by the way of Bactria (Bokhara) westwards. It was under the race of Han, perhaps the most celebrated era of Chinese history, that an envoy is stated to have been sent in A.D. 94, by the seventeenth Emperor of that dynasty, to seek some intercourse with the western world. This minister is said to have reached Arabia , and as it is certain that Hoty, the prince by whom he was deputed, was the first sovereign of China who
* It is noticed by Florus, that ambassadors came from the Seres to Augustus; but Horace notices the Seres in a way which makes it unlikely they should have been the Chinese. sollicitus times quid Seres, et regnata Cyro Bactra parent."
EARLY EUROPEAN INTERCOURSE.
introduced the use of eunuchs into the palace, it may be deemed probable that he borrowed them from thence. The contests of the Chinese with the Tartars, even at that early period, are stated to have been the occasion of a Chinese General reaching the borders of the Caspian, at the time when Trajan was Emperor of Rome. The growing consumption, among the luxurious Latins, of the valuable and beautiful silk stuffs with which they were supplied through the medium of India, seems to have tempted the Emperor Marcus Antoninus to despatch an embassy to the country which was reported to produce those manufactures. The numerous obstacles presented by a land journey induced him to send his mission by sea, A.D. 161. Like most attempts of the kind, this appears to have been an entire failure, and the ambassadors returned from China without having paved the way to a more frequent or intimate intercourse with that secluded country.
The Jesuits have informed us, that some of the Catholic missionaries discovered, in the year 1625, at one of the principal cities of the province Shensy, an inscription in Syriac letters, recording the first introduction of Christianity into China in the year 635, by certain Nestorian bishops, who had been driven eastward by persecutions in the Roman provinces. We are not indebted, however, to these refugees for any early account of the country. Their existence in the same province of Shensy, at the period when Marco Polo visited China, is clearly stated by that traveller, as may be seen in Marsden's edition, page 404. To those who travelled by land from Syria, and other countries bordering on the Mediterranean, it was the easiest of access, as being the most westerly point of the empire, towards Peking; and they were probably induced to settle there, from finding it one of the most populous and civilized portions of China at that early period.
Marco Polo besides states, that in a city in the neighbourhood of Nanking, on the banks of the Yang-tse-Keang, there were two churches of Nestorian Christians, which were built in 1274, when his Majesty the Emperor appointed a Nestorian, named Mar Sachis, to the government of it (the city) for three years. By him those churches were established where there had not been any before, and they still subsist *.? The editor justly observes, that the existence of these churches, of which no reasonable doubt can be entertained, is a curious fact in the history of the progress made by the Christian religion in the eastern or remoter parts of China. remarkable,” he adds, “ that De Guignes, in describing a religious building not far from this city, mentions a tradition that gives strength to the belief of an early Christian establishment in that quarter: ‘Les Chinois racontent qu'un Chrétien, nommé Kiang-tsy-tay, vivoit dans ce lieu il y a trois cents ans; on montre encore son appartement dans la partie de l'est.""
It is to the Arabs that we owe the first distinct account of China, and of its peculiar institutions and customs. Their far extended conquests brought them to the confines of that remote empire; and the enlightenment of science and literature, which they possessed in no small degree during the eighth and ninth centuries, led many individuals among them to explore unknown countries, and to record what they had seen.
We possess an interesting specimen in Renaudot's translation from the itineraries of two Arabian travellers, in the years 850 and 877. These bear internal evidences of truth and accuracy no less indisputable than those which distinguish the relations of the Venetian traveller Marco Polo; and as they have reference to a much earlier period
* Marsden's Marco Polo, p. 501.