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was born in China! It constantly occurs to me, what if I had been born beyond the sea, in some remote part of the earth, where the cold freezes, or the heat scorches; where the people are clothed with the leaves of plants, eat wood, dwell in the wilderness, lie in holes of the earth; are far removed from the converting maxims of the ancient Kings, and are ignorant of the domestic relations. Though born as one of the generation of men, I should not have been different from a beast. But how happily I have been born in China. I have a house to live in, have drink and food, and commodious furniture. I have clothing and caps, and infinite blessings. Truly the highest felicity is mine." The country cannot, upon the whole, be
illgoverned whose subjects write in this style. But it is a still more remarkable fact, that the following should be a popular maxim of the Chinese, and one frequently quoted by them :—“To violate THE LAW, is the same crime in the Emperor as in a subject.” This plainly intimates, that there are certain sanctions which the people in general look upon as superior to the will of the Sovereign himself. These are contained in their sacred books, whose principle is literally, salus populi suprema lex ; as we shall see when we come to consider them hereafter. However much this principle may at times be violated under the pressure of a foreign Tartar dominion, it nevertheless continues to be recognized, and must doubtless exercise more or less influence on the conduct of the Government.
CHARACTER AND MANNERS.
CHARACTER AND MANNERS.
Chinese appear at Canton in their worst phase-Instance of Gratitude
Good and bad Traits-Pride and Ignorance-Age and high Station most honoured-Regard to Kindred and Birth-place—Real extent of Infanticide—Physical Characteristics—Personal Appearance-Caprices of National Taste—Primitive Features-Degeneracy of Imperial Kindrea Highest Honours open to Talent and Learning-Absence of Ostentation-Condition of Feinale Sex-But one legal Wife Marriage--Ceremonies attending it-Children-Education Funeral Rites-Periods of Mourning.
Most of the good and bad traits of the Chinese character may, as usual, be traced to the advantages or faults of their social system. If those principles of government and those laws, of which we have given a slight sketch, have the effect of imbuing them with some of the vices connected with timidity of character, which are particularly disesteemed in Europe, it is only fair to give them credit, on the other hand, for the valuable qualities which they do really possess. The Chinese have, upon the whole, been under-estimated, or, rather, unfairly despised on the score of their moral attributes. The reason of this has probably been, the extremely unfavourable aspect in which they have appeared to the generality of observers at Canton: just as if any one should attempt to form an estimate of our national character in England, from that peculiar phase under which it may present itself at some commercial sea-port!
It is in fact a matter of astonishment that the Chinese people at Canton should be no worse than we find them. They are well acquainted with that
maxim of their Government, by which it openly professes to “ rule barbarians by misrule, like beasts and not like native subjects ;” and they are perpetually supplied by the local authorities with every motive to behave towards strangers as if they were really a degraded order of beings. The natural consequence is, that their conduct to Europeans is very different from their conduct among themselves. Except when under the influence of either interest or of fear, they are often haughty and insolent to strangers, as well as fraudulent; and such is the effect of opinion among them, that even in cases where interest may persuade them to servility, this will not be exhibited in the presence of a countryman. A beggar has often been seen who, though he would bend his knee very readily to European passengers when unobserved, refrained altogether from it while Chinese were passing by. It was some time before the very coolies, the lowest class of servants, would condescend to carry a lantern before a European at night; and still longer before they could be induced by any wages, to convey him in a sedan even at Macao, where it is permitted. Is it surprising, then, that they should reconcile it, without much difficulty, to their feelings to overreach and ill use, occasionally, these creatures of an inferior rank, who, as their Government phrases it, come to benefit by “ the transforming influence of Chinese civilization;" or, rather, is it not very surprising that so general a course of honesty and good faith, and so many instances of kindness and generosity, even, should have been experienced in their intercourse with us? If we deny to the Chinese their fair advantages, on a view somewhat more extended than the precincts of Canton afford, and if we condemn them ignorantly, it is the precise fault which we have most to censure on their part. We in fact become as illiberal as themselves.
INSTANCE OF GRATITUDE.
The following anecdote, from a miscellaneous volume* by Sir George Staunton, is a favourable specimen of Chinese character, as it has appeared even at Canton. A considerable merchant had some dealings with an American trader, who attempted to quit the port without discharging his debt, and would have succeeded but for the spirit and activity of a young officer of one of the Company's ships. He boarded the American vessel when upon the point of sailing, and, by his remonstrances or otherwise, prevailed on the American to make a satisfactory arrangement with his creditor. In acknowledgment for this service, the Chinese merchant purchased from the young officer, in his several successive voyages to China, on very favourable terms, the whole of his commercial adventure. He might thus have been considered to have fulfilled any ordinary claim upon his gratitude; but he went further than this. After some years he expressed his surprise to the officer that he had not yet obtained the command of a ship. The other replied, that it was a lucrative post which could be obtained only by purchase, and at an expense of some thousand pounds, a sum wholly out of his power to raise.
The Chinese merchant said he would remove that difficulty, and immediately gave him a draft for the amount, to be repaid at his convenience. The officer died on his voyage home, and the draft was never presented; but it was drawn on a house of great respectability, and would have been duly honoured.
The late Dr. Morrison formed a very fair estimate of a people with whom he was better acquainted than most Europeans.“ In China,” he observes, “ there is much to blame, but something to learn. Education is there made as general as possible, and moral instruction is ranked above physical.” The con
* Notices of China, part ii.
sequence is, that industry, tranquillity, and content are unusually prevalent in the bulk of the population. The exceptions to this, in the tumults which arise from local distress in limited districts, are in some measure the consequence of the very means taken to prevent them. The Chinese are bad political economists: the Government, instead of allowing the trade in grain to take its natural course, erects its own granaries, in which there is much inevitable abuse, and prohibits the business of the great cornfactor, who, in consulting his own interests, would much better relieve the dearth of one season by the redundancy of another. The people, who are taught to look to the public granaries for relief, and have been .ed by their patriarchal theory of Government to refer the good, which they enjoyed, to the Emperor and his delegates, very naturally attribute the evil which they suffer to the same quarters; and the Government, aware of the danger, is proportionately anxious to guard against it. If it fails, in the pursuit of an erroneous system, there is no room for surprise.
Notwithstanding that his power is absolute, the Emperor himself on all occasions endeavours to prove that his conduct is based in reason, and originates in benevolence,—the truth of the argument being of course a distinct affair. From the habits in which they are brought up, as well as from the operation of certain positive laws already noticed, the people are more ready to reason with each other, than to resort to the ultima ratio of force. The advantageous features of their character, as mildness, docility, industry, peaceableness, subordination, and respect for the aged, are accompanied by the vices of specious insincerity, falsehood, with mutual distrust, and jealousy. Lying and deceit, being generally the refuge of the weak and timid, have been held in Europe to be the most disgraceful vices, ever since the influence of those feudal