Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

fishing-boats on the southern coasts maintain a race of hardy sailors, who have more than once, by their piratical combinations, given great trouble to the government, and were gained over at last only by concession.* The vast quantities of fish which are caught are mostly salted, and thus consumed with rice. It is on the lakes and swamps of Shantung and Keang-nân that the fishing-bird is trained to exercise his piscatorial habits in the service of man, and they may now be seen on the pieces of water within the town of Ning-po. Numbers of them were observed by our embassies perched in every boat, froin which, at a given signal, they disperse themselves over the water and return regularly with their prey.

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][merged small]

The political causes which tend to swell the population of China are numerous and powerful. Among these are the paternal rights which continue during life, and render a son, even in that over-peopled country, an important acquisition. How effectual and necessary male children

* Since our war they have again become as numerous as ever.

are considered to the support of aged parents, is proved by the laws of the country, which grant life sometimes even to a condemned homicide, if the want of another son or grandson, above the age of sixteen, renders his existence necessary to the support of a parent. In some cases the next nearest relative, as a nephew, may be reprieved from death under the same plea.* We have seen before that the power over children is in reality absolute, and it appears that the original relation of the offspring to both their parents remains in full force, notwithstanding the divorce of the latter. The other cause which renders male children so desirable is the sentiment regarding sacrifices at the tombs, and in the temple of ancestors, on which the whole plot of one of their plays has been mentioned as turning. In default of male children, there is a legalized mode of adoption, by which the line is perpetuated, and the family prevented from becoming extinct. Even the tendency of slavery to check population is counteracted, by a law which makes the owners of domestic slaves, who do not procure husbands for their females, liable to prosecution.

But the perpetuation of families does not tend more to the density of the population than the manner in which those families live and are maintained. It is a universal system of clubbing on the most economical plan. The emperor observes, in the Sacred Instructions, that nine generations once lived under the same roof, and that " in the family of Chang-she, of Keang-chow, seven hundred partook of the same daily repast. Thus ought all those who are of the same name to bear in remembrance their common ancestry and parentage. . . . May your regard for your ancestors be manifested in your mutual love and affection; may you be like streams diverging

* Peking Gazettes. Royal Asiatic Transactions, vol. i. p. 395.

from their sources, * or trees branching from their stems.” The claims of kindred being thus strengthened and enforced, and supported besides by common opinion, the property of families is made to maintain the greatest number possible; and even if any prudential scruples respecting marriage were supposed to exist in the mind of a Chinese, this would tend effectually to remove them.

Another political cause that aggravates the over-population of the country is the obstacle that exists, both in law and prejudice, to emigration. “ All officers of government, soldiers, and private citizens, who clandestinely proceed to sea to trade, or remove to foreign islands for the purpose of inhabiting and cultivating the same, shall be punished according to the law against communicating with rebels and enemies.”+ Necessity of course renders this in a great measure nugatory ; but it must discourage emigration ; because, even supposing a subject to have amassed a fortune in foreign countries, there is the clear letter of the law to hang perpetually over him on his return; and it is precisely in this way that all persecution and extortion in China is exercised—by quoting the law against a man. But, independently of this, the abandonment of his native place, and of the tombs of his ancestors, is always abhorrent to the mind of a Chinese ; and the consequence is, that no persons but the most indigent or desperate ever quit their country.

In the general list of causes must not be omitted a very important one—the uninterrupted peace which, up to our own war, has been enjoyed by this country since the complete establishment of the Manchow dynasty, a period now considerably exceeding a century and a half. The depopulating effects of war are by no means to be measured or estimated alone by the numbers that actually die, for that loss would soon be repaired; but by the ruin and destruction of the funds for the support of existence, and the cessation of the occupations which produce those funds. At the Tartar conquest the waste of human life appears to have been almost beyond belief ; but since that time the country enjoyed a period of general tranquillity scarcely to be equalled even in Chinese annals. Two of the Manchow sovereigns were very extraordinary persons : their administration conferred a degree of prosperity on the empire which raised or restored it to its present condition, and increased its population, according to native accounts, at a rate which seems absolutely incredible, if measured by European calculations or experience. It is now time to exhibit the different statements on this subject-statements so vague and contradictory that it does not appear easy to come to a very satisfactory result.

* This comparison is evidently false. Streams converge from their sources; and a genealogical river would be as absurd as a genealogical tree is correct.

† Penal Code, sect. ccxxv.

It seems clear that the native statistical accounts are, under any circumstances, and with all their defects, the only sources of information on which much dependence can be placed. Our two embassies bore witness to the countless numbers that came under their observation on the route between Peking and Canton; but the provinces and districts through which both missions passed are confessedly the richest of the whole empire, and well known to excel, both in fertility and population, those to the westward. The Grand Canal and the Keâng render them the great commercial route between the northern and southern provinces ; and the British embassies drew together the whole population of the cities and neighbourhoods through which they travelled, the mandarins who attended them declaring that the crowd and bustle (chaou naou) exceeded anything they themselves had before

witnessed. The estimate of three hundred and thirtythree millions, obtained from one of the conductors of Lord Macartney, is confessedly a document in round numbers ; but, being declared to be founded on official returns, might at least be considered as an approximation to the truth, if the accounts derived by us, directly from their own statistical works, did not unfortunately discredit themselves by the contradictions and inconsistencies that pervade them.

Grosier, on the authority of Amiot, who quoted the Yětung-chy, or statistical account of the whole empire, made the population in 1743 amount to one hundred and ninety-eight, or two hundred millions. There is nothing incredible in this, considering that the area included within the limits of China proper is above eight times. that of France. But on comparing it with the three hundred and thirty-three millions of Lord Macartney's authority, just fifty years afterwards, an increase of considerably more than half within that period seems very large. The true point of difficulty is the degree of credit that is to be attached to the Chinese census. The division of the whole population into hundreds and tithings seems calculated to secure some degree of correctness in the returns ; yet it has been stated, on native authority, that “the ordinary report of the population is a mere matter of form, to which no particular attention is paid. When a census is especially called for by the emperor, the local officers just take the last one, and make a lumping addition to it, in order to please his majesty with the flattering idea of increase and prosperity. Now, although it is true that the enormous census of three hundred and thirty-three millions was not made to impose on foreigners, yet it might have been made by this proud nation to impose on themselves.”*

* Letter in Chinese Repository, vol. i. p. 385.

« ZurückWeiter »