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wastefulness of the practice, though it probably contributes to the healthiness of Chinese towns. From midnight until dawn everybody is engaged in the performance of sacred rites, or in preparing his house for the solemnities of the new year. Many go through the ceremony of washing and bathing in warm water, in which are infused the aromatic leaves of the Hoang-py, a fruit-tree. Every dwelling is swept and garnished, and the shrine of the household gods decorated with huge porcelain dishes or vases containing the fragrant gourd, the large citron, called by them “ the hand of Budh,” (or Fö,) and the flowers of the narcissus. The bulbs of this last are placed in pots or vases filled with smooth rounded pebbles and water, just so long before the time as to be in full blossom exactly at the new year. Early on the morning of the first day of the first moon, crowds repair to the different temples in their best attire, kindred and acquaintance meet, and visits are paid universally to offer the compliments of the season. A man on this day hardly knows his own domestics, so finely are they attired; and on all sides along the streets may be seen the bowings and half-kneelings, with the affected efforts to prevent them, which constitute a part of Chinese ceremonies of courtesy.
The large red tickets of congratulation which they send to each other on this occasion have a wood-cut, representing the three principal felicities in Chinese estimation, namely, offspring, official employment, (or promotion,) and long life. These are indicated by the figures of a child, a mandarin, and an aged figure accompanied by a stork, the emblem of longevity. For the space of the three first days it would be reckoned unlucky, if not criminal, to perform any work beyond what is required by the daily exigencies of life, and many defer their occupations for about twenty days. At every house the visitor is received with ready cups of tea, and with the betel, as used in
THE NEW YEAR-FEAST OF LANTERNS.
India and the Eastern islands. That nothing may interrupt the general festivity, the termination of the previous year is occupied in settling all outstanding money-accounts, and the discredit is so great of not being able to pay up at that period, that many will borrow, at a ruinous rate, of Peter, in order to satisfy the demands of Paul. It being the custom to kill great numbers of capons previous to the new year, an unhappy debtor, who cannot arrange with his creditors at that period, is said, in derision, to have a capon's destiny."
The new year is the principal period for exchanging presents among friends. These commonly consist of delicacies, as rare fruits, sweetmeats, fine tea, and occasionally of silk stuffs for dresses, and ornaments of various kinds. These are accompanied by a list inscribed on a red ticket, which it is customary to return by the bearer, with this inscription, “ received with thanks." The compliment is immediately to be returned by presents of the same kind, and in the same manner, the servants who convey them always receiving a reward. It is an unpardonable insult to send back a batch of these new-year's gifts, though, if they are deemed too liberal, a selection may be made, and the rest returned, with this note beside them on the ticket, “ The pearls are declined.” The better kinds of fruits, tea, and other articles used on these occasions are for the same reason styled “ceremonial, or present goods.”
The first full moon of the new year is the Feast of Lanterns, being a display of ingenuity and taste in the construction and mechanism of an infinite variety of lanterns made of silk, varnish, horn, paper, and glass, some of them supplied with moving figures of men galloping on horseback, fighting, or performing various feats, together with numerous representations of beasts, birds, and other living creatures, the whol
in full motion. The moving principle in these is the same with that of the smoke-jack, being a horizontal wheel turned by the draft of air created by the heat of the lamp. The circular motion is communicated in various directions by fine threads attached to the moving figures. The general effect is extremely good; though, as objects of real use, the Chinese lamps labour under the disadvantage of giving but a poor light, which arises in part from the opacity of the materials, and the superfluity of ornament, but principally from the badness of the lamp itself, which is simply a cotton wick immersed in a cup of oil; and they have no way of increasing the light except by adding to the number of wicks. They seem to admire our Argand lamps, but seldom use them, except in compliment to European guests; and even when received as presents, they may frequently be seen laid by in a dusty corner.
The fireworks of the Chinese are sometimes ingenious and entertaining, rather, however, on account of the variety of moving figures which they exhibit, than the brilliancy or skill of the pyrotechny, which is inferior to our own. Their best thing of the kind is what Europeans call a drum, from its being a cylindrical case, in which is contained a multitude of figures folded into a small space, and so contrived as to drop in succession on strings, and remain suspended in motion, during the explosion of the various fireworks contained within the cylinder. They likewise contrive to make paper figures of boats to float and move upon the water, by means of a stream of fire issuing from the stern. Their rockets are bad, but blue lights they manufacture sufficiently well for the use of European ships.
In their diversions, the Chinese have much of that childish character which distinguishes other Asiatics. Science, as an amusement, may be said to be entirely
CONTRARIETY OF USAGES.
wanting to them, and the intellect cannot be unbended, from the pursuits of business, by the rational conversation or occupations which distinguish the superior portions of European society. The mind under a despotism has few of those calls for exertion, among the bulk of the people, which in free states give it manly strength and vigour. Bearing no part in public transactions, and living in uninterrupted peace, the uniform insipidity of their existence is relieved by any, even the most frivolous and puerile amusements. This feature, as well as the very striking contrariety of Chinese customs, in comparison with our own, are given with sufficient correctness in the following passages from a little work printed at Macao, which are inserted here, divested of some of the buffoonery of the original :
“On inquiring of the boatmen in which direction Macao lay, I was answered, in the west-north, the wind, as I was informed, being east-south. We do not say so in Europe, thought I; but imagine my surprise when, in explaining the utility of the compass, the boatman added, that the needle pointed to the south! Desirous to change the subject, I remarked that I concluded he was about to proceed to some high festival, or merry-making, as his dress was completely white. He told me, with a look of much dejection, that his only brother had died the week before, and that he was in the deepest mourning for him. On my landing, the first object that attracted my attention was a military mandarin, who wore an embroidered petticoat, with a string of beads round his neck, and who besides carried a fan; and it was with some dismay I observed him mount on the right side of his horse. I was surrounded by natives, all of whom had the hair shaven from the fore part of the head, while a portion of them permitted it to grow on their faces. On my way to the house VOL. I,
prepared for my reception, I saw two Chinese boys discussing with much earnestness who should be the possessor of an orange. They debated the point with a vast variety of gesture, and at length, without venturing to fight about it, sat down and divided the orange equally between them..... At that moment my attention was drawn by several old Chinese, some of whom had grey beards, and nearly all of them huge goggling spectacles. A few were chirruping and chuckling to singing-birds, which they carried in bamboo cages, or perched on a stick; others were catching flies to feed the birds: the remainder of the party seemed to be delightedly employed in flying paper kites, while a group of boys were gravely looking on, and regarding these innocent occupations of their seniors with the most serious and gratified attention. .... I was resolute in my determination to persevere, and the next morning found me provided with a Chinese master, who happily understood English. I was fully prepared to be told that I was about to study a language without an alphabet, but was somewhat astonished, on his opening the Chinese volume, to find him begin at what I had all my life previously considered the end of the book. He read the date of the publication—The fifth year, tenth month, twentythird day.'—We arrange our dates differently,' I observed ; and begged that he would speak of their ceremonials. He commenced by saying, 'When you receive a distinguished guest, do not fail to place him on your left hand, for that is the seat of honour; and be cautious not to uncover the head, as it would be an unbecoming act of familiarity.' Hardly prepared for this blow to my established notions, I requested he would discourse of their philosophy. He re-opened the volume, and read with becoming gravity, "The most learned men are decidedly of opinion that the seat of the human understanding is the stomach.' I