« ZurückWeiter »
palace itself. These fortunate and illustrious persons form the body from whom the ministers of the Em peror are generally chosen.
A man's sons may, or may not be instrumental, by their success in learning, to reflect honour on their parents, or advance them in worldly rank and prosperity; but the mere chance of this, joined to the heavy responsibility for their conduct, is a great inducement to fathers to bring them up with care, and may serve to account for the great and universal prevalence of a certain degree of education throughout the empire. Such is the demand on every individual for exertion, in a country so thickly peopled, that the children of the very lowest classes, whom extreme indigence precludes from the hope or chance of rising by learning, are trained to labour and to the cares of Jife almost from the time they can first walk. slight stick or pole, proportioned to their size, across their shoulders, young children are constantly seen trudging along with weights, sometimes much heavier than they ought to carry, or busily engaged in other serious employments, as the assistants of their parents. In a country where the youngest cannot afford to be idle, and where, as their proverb strongly expresses it, "to stop the hand is the way to stop the mouth," there an air of staid gravity about some of the children, quite unsuited to their years.
But it is not during his life only that a man looks for the services of his sons. It is his consolation in declining years, to think that they will continue the performance of the prescribed rites in the hall of ancestors, and at the familytombs, when he is no more; and it is the absence of this prospect that makes the childless doubly miserable. The superstition derives influence from the importance attached by the Government to this species of posthumous duty; a neglect of which is punishable, as we have seen, by the laws.
Indeed, of all the subjects of their care, there are none which the Chinese so religiously attend to as the tombs of their ancestors, conceiving that any neglect is sure to be followed by worldly misfortune. It is almost the only thing that approaches to the character
religious sense” among them; for, throughout their idolatrous superstitions, there is a remarkable absence of reverence towards the idols and priests of the Budh and Taou sects.
The want of ceremony with which they treat their gods is not more surprising, however, than the apparently impious expressions which are occasionally used in the ancient classics of Europe towards the whole family of Olympus :
“ Tunc cum virguncula Juno !" When a parent or elder relation among the Chinese dies, the event is formally announced to all the branches of the family; each side of the doors is distinguished by labels in white, which is the mourning colour. The lineal descendants of the deceased, clothed in coarse white cloth, with bandages of the same round their heads, sit weeping round the corpse on the ground, the women keeping up a dismal howl after the manner of the Irish. In the mean time the friends of the deceased appear
with white coverlids of linen or silk, which are placed on the body; the eldest son, or next lineal male descendant, supported on each side by relations, and bearing in his hands a porcelain bowl containing two copper coins, now proceeds to the river, or the nearest well, or the wet ditch of the city, to“ buy water," as it is termed. The ceremony must be performed by the eldest son's son, in preference to the second son, and entitles him to a double share of the property, which in other respects is divided equally among the sons. The form of washing the face and body with this water being completed, the deceased is
dressed as in life, and laid in a coffin, of which the planks are from four to six inches in thickness, and the bottom strewed with quick-lime.
On being closed, it is made air-tight by cement, being besides varnished on the inside and outside. A tablet is then placed on it, bearing inscribed the name and titles of the deceased, as they are afterwards to be cut upon his tomb.
On the expiration of thrice seven, or twenty-one days, the funeral procession takes place, the tablet being conveyed in a gilded sedan or pavilion, with incense and offerings before it. It is accompanied by music closely resembling the Scottish bagpipe, with the continual repetition of three successive strokes on a sort of drum. The children and relations of both sexes follow in white, without much order or regularity, and, upon reaching the grave, the ceremonies and oblations commence. It being a part of their superstition that money and garments must be burned for the use of the deceased in the world of spirits, these are, with a wise economy, represented by paper. The form of the tomb, whether large or small, is exactly that of a Greek 12, which, if taken in the sense of “ the end,” is an odd accidental coincidence. Those of the rich and great are sometimes very large, and contain a considerable quantity of masonry, with figures of animals in stone. The whole detail of sepulchral rites, with the sentiments of the Chinese concerning the dead, are contained in the drama of “ an Heir in
After the interment, the tablet of the deceased is brought back in procession, and if the family be rich it is placed in the hall of ancestors; if poor, in some part of the house, with incense before it. Twice in every year, in the spring and autumn, are the periods fixed for performing the rites to the dead, but the first is the principal period, and the only one commonly attended
to. Unlike the generality of Chinese festivals, which are regulated by the moon, (and therefore moveable,) this is determined by the sun, and occurs annually 105 days after the winter solstice, i.e. the 5th of April. About that time (for a day or two before or after does not signify to them) the whole population of the town is seen trooping out in partiesto the hills, to repair and sweep the tombs, and make offerings, leaving behind them, on their return home, long streamers of red and white paper, to mark the fulfilment of the rites. Whole ranges of hills, sprinkled with tombs, may at that season be seen covered with these testimonials of attention to the departed, fluttering in the wind and sunshine.
Such are the har mless, if not meritorious forms of respect for the dead, which the Jesuits wisely tolerated in their converts, knowing the consequences of outraging their most cherished prejudices ; but the crowds of ignorant monks, who flocked to the breach which those scientific and able men had opened, jealous,