« ZurückWeiter »
GOOD AND BAD TRAITS.
institutions, under which strength and courage were the things most valued. The Chinese at any time do not attach the same degree of disgrace to deceit; and least of all do they discountenance it towards Europeans at Canton. A true calculation of their own interest makes most of the merchants of that place sufficiently scrupulous in their commercial engagements, but on all other points “the foreign devil,” as they call him, is fair game. Many a Chinese of Canton, in his intercourse with a stranger, would seem occasionally to have an abstract love of falsehood and trickery, independently of any thing that he can gain by it; and he will appear sometimes to volunteer a lie, when it would be just the same to him to tell the truth. Mr. Barrow has attributed their national insincerity to a motive, which no doubt operates with the higher classes, as much as an ignorant contempt, and a mischievous malignity, do with the rabble. “As a direct refusal,” he observes, “ to any request would betray a want of good breeding, every proposal finds their immediate acquiescence: they promise without hesitation, but generally disappoint by the invention of some slight pretence or plausible objection: they have no proper sense of the obligations of truth.” This renders all negotiations with them on public matters almost entirely fruitless, as no reliance whatever can be placed on them for the fulfilment of engagements. They dispense with faith towards foreigners in a manner truly Machiavellian.
The excellent observer above quoted remarked also the cheerful character and willing industry of the Chinese. This is in fact a most invaluable trait, and, like most other virtues, it brings its own reward: the display is not, however, limited to their own country. The superior character of the Chinese as colonists, in regard to intelligence, industry, and general sobriety, must be derived from their education, and from the
influence of something good in their national system. Their Government very justly regards education as omnipotent, and some share of it nearly every Chinese obtains. Their domestic discipline is all on the side of social order and universal industry.
The important advantages which they certainly possess, more especially in comparison with the adjoining countries, have given the Chinese the inordinate national pride so offensive to Europeans. These illusions of self-love, fostered by ignorance, have inspired them with notions of their country, in regard to the rest of the earth, quite analogous to those entertained by the old astronomers, of the earth relatively to the universe. They think it the centre of a system, and call it choong-kuð, the central nation; nor is it a small increase of foreign intercourse and knowledge that will be required to set them right. The natural disposition of the people to despise strangers has been artfully promoted by the mandarins. A timid and miserable policy has led them to consider it their interest to increase the mutual dislike and disunion. Hence the slanderous proclamations exhibited by them against foreigners at Canton, and the penalties attached to a “traitorous intercourse" with Euros
cpeans. The most dangerous accusation against a native, is that of being subject to foreign influence in any way.
There is a positive law against the use of things not sanctioned by custom; partly therefore from fear, partly from conceit, they are very little inclined to adopt foreign modes, or purchase foreign manufactures. Raw produce, or the materials of manufactures, find better market among them; but the most marketable commodity of all are dollars. Indisputably superior as Europe is in science, and in the productions of science, yet to a Chinese, who sees few things brought from thence that really suit hi
HIGH STATION AND AGE MOST HONOURED, 243
peculiar and conventional wants, or that are in conformity with the usages enjoined by the ritual, and who, until lately, heard little of the different states into which Europe is divided, but the indistinct rumour of their endless wars and massacres on a large scale, it is not surprising if no very elevated picture presented itself; in comparison with his own immense and wealthy country, its hundreds of millions of industrious and intelligent people, and an uninterrupted peace of nearly 200 years, even if we go no farther than the Tarlar invasion. Whatever there is of extreme poverty and destitution in the country, arises solely from the unusual degree in which the population is made to press against the means of subsistence, by causes which we shall notice hereafter; and not from any fault in the distribution of wealth, which is perhaps far more equal here than in any other country. There is much less inequality in the fortunes than in the ranks and conditions of men. The comparatively low estimation in which mere wealth is held, is a considerable moral advantage on the side of the Chinese; for
“Magnum pauperies opprobrium, jubet
Quidvis et facere et pati.” Poverty is no reproach among them. The two things which they most respect are, station derived from personal merit, and ihe claims of venerable old age. The last was signally honoured by Kang-hy, the second Emperor of the reigning family. An inferior officer, of more than a hundred years of age, having come to an audience to do homage, the Emperor rose from his seat and met him, desiring the old man to stand
without ceremony, and telling him he paid this respect to his great age. According to that connection which exists between the languages and the usages of nations, the ordinary address of civility
and respect in China is, Laou-yay, “Old, or venerable Father,” which, as a mere form of speech, is often addressed to a person half the age of the speaker.
The peaceful and prudential character of the people may be traced to the influence and authority of age. In consequence of the individuals of succeeding generations living entirely under the power and control of the oldest surviving heads of families, the ignorant and inexperienced are guided by the more mature judgment of the elders, and the sallies of rashness and folly easily restrained. The effects of example and of early habit are equally visible in their conversation. The Chinese frequently get the better of Europeans, in a discussion, by imperturbable coolness and gravity. It is part of their policy to gain the advantage by letting their opponent work himself into a passion, and place himself in the wrong: hence the more than ordinary necessity of carefully preserving the temper with them. Gravity of demeanour is much affected, particularly by magistrates and persons of rank: it is styled choong, literally heavy, or grave (which in its origin means the same), in contradistinction to king, light, or levity. As this is, in some degree, promoted by a heavy, lumbering figure, it may be the origin of their partiality for bulkiness in men; while in women they admire such an opposite quality. Any under-sized individual, who does not fill his chair well, they jocularly style, “ short measure."
It is the discipline to which they are subject from earliest childhood, and the habit of controlling their ruder passions, that renders crimes of violence so unfrequent among them. Robbery is very seldom accompanied by murder. Under real or supposed injury, however, they are sometimes found to be very revengeful, and on such occasions not at all scrupulous as to how they accomplish their purpose. Women
REGARD TO KINDRED AND BIRTH-PLACE. 245
will sometimes hang or drown themselves, merely to bring those with whom they have quarrelled into trouble. The people, quiet and submissive as they are, will, when once roused by intolerable oppression, rise en masse against a magistrate, and destroy him if they can. In such a case, should the obnoxious governor escape the vengeance of the populace, he seldom meets with any mercy at Peking, where revolts prove serious occurrences to those under whom they take place.
To the system of clubbing together in families we might almost say in clans--is to be attributed that sacred regard to kindred which operates better than a public provision for the relief of the poor, and serves as one of the best means for the distribution of wealth; a valuable science, in which they perhaps beat our economists, though they do not equal them in the rules for its creation. Hence, too, that regard for the place of his birth, which always clings to a Chinese through life, often making him apply for leave to quit the honours and emolument of office, and retire to his native village. The same feeling makes the colonists, who venture abroad in search of gain, return home as soon as they have acquired something like a competency, though at the risk of being oppressed under the forms of law for having left China. They have a popular saying, “ If he who attains to honours or wealth never returns to his native place, he is like a finely-dressed person walking in the dark;"—it is all
We have now touched briefly upon the leading features of the Chinese character, which will be viewed and appreciated according to the peculiar tastes and opinions of readers, but which by most persons must be allowed to contain an admixture, at least, of what is good and valuable. It remains to notice one important circumstance which has very