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In a paper by Dr. Morrison (appended to a report of the Anglo-Chinese College in 1829) there is an account, obtained from a native work, of the functions of the Board of Revenue at Peking, which among other matters takes cognizance of the population. It appears that at the commencement of the present dynasty of Manchow emperors, and soon after their occupation of the country, a census was taken, with reference to a poll-tax and a liability to military service, of all males above sixteen and under sixty years of age. The poll-tax was afterwards merged in the land-tax, the census disregarded, and the poll-tax for ever interdicted. The census was, however, afterwards restored by the Emperor Kien-loong, not with any view to taxation, but simply to ascertain the amount of numbers in each province and district, and this was to be taken by the heads of tens and of hundreds every three or five years. The first report was to the local magistrate, the next from him to the heads of the province, while these last transmitted the accounts to the supreme government. The avowed object of this census was to have some guide in apportioning government relief during periods of drought, inundation, and famine, to particular districts; as well as to aid the police in the execution of their duties.
When the census was taken by Kien-loong shortly previous to the embassy of Lord Macartney, that emperor, in the fifty-eighth year of his reign, corresponding to 1793, issued a proclamation addressed to the whole empire, calling upon all ranks and conditions of men to economise the gifts of heaven, and by industry to increase the quantity ; for, observing the increase of population since the period of the conquest, he looks forward with deep concern to the future, when the numbers of the people shall have exceeded the means of subsistence. “The land (he says) does not increase in quantity, although the people to be fed increase so rapidly.” Here is the highest authority to prove that a very great increase had really taken place; but when we come to the particulars, they are such as to stagger all belief. The emperor goes on to say that in the forty-ninth year of Kâng-hy (A.D. 1710), or under the old system of the poll-tax, the population of the empire was rated at 23,312,200 and odd; and that by the late census, according to returns sent from all the provinces, it amounted to 307,467,200 !
“The increase,” observes Dr. Morrison, “seems so enormous in a period of about eighty-two years, that some error in the figures might be supposed. However, the emperor remarks that the increase had been about fifteenfold, which shows there was no mistake ; since fifteen-fold would make the amount three hundred and forty-five millions.”* Dr. Morrison proceeds to say that “the statement proves Mr. Malthus's position, that population may double itself every twenty-five years, for this is nearly doubling it every twenty years.” Indeed it proves a great deal too much, unless some way can be discovered of reconciling the account with bare possibility. But we must remember that a great portion of the country was unsubdued in the reign of Kâng-hy. The southern parts of the empire held out obstinately against the Tartars, and some of them were long governed by independent Chinese rulers. These, then, must of necessity have been, for the time, excluded from a census of the subjects of the Manchow dynasty. At the time when the numbering took place by order of Kien-loong, every portion of the present empire was united in peaceful subjection to his sway, and had, besides, enjoyed unusual
* The increase, according to the numbers given, is something more than thirteen-fold..
peace and prosperity during his reign of extraordinary duration.
Again, we must call to mind that the census, so remarkable for its small amount under Kâng-hy, was with reference to a poll-tax and to military service, two objects which were of all others the least calculated, during an unsettled and half-subdued state of the country, to ensure a correct or full return. It was long before the Chinese could get over their natural aversion to the Tartar dominion; and, for the first generation or two, it is likely that great numbers would seek refuge, either in some part of China still independent, or in some neighbouring countries or islands, as we have seen that they did in Formosa. The Manchow conquest is said, by the combined effects of war and emigration, to have reduced the population of China to less than half its amount under the Ming race; but the conquest has been followed by almost unexampled peace and prosperity during a period considerably exceeding a century and a half; and this circumstance, in connexion with those several parts of the Chinese system which we have already noticed as eminently favourable to increase, must have had its effect in peopling the country. The unrestrained march of population in its “geometric progression” is easily comprehended in a new country, like America, with plenty of fertile land: but, in China, it is necessary to explain an apparently sudden and extraordinary increase on particular and specific grounds.
A census said, on the authority of a Chinese statistical work of some note, to have been taken in the seventeenth year of Keaking (1812) goes beyond the amount stated to Lord Macartney, and makes the population reach the number of 360,279,897. If the other is to be received, there is less difficulty in believing the increase that this
last exhibits in nineteen years. It must be left to the reader's own judgment to determine how far the accuracy of a Chinese census is to be trusted, after he has been informed that the account is made up from the returns' received in detail from every village in the empire, in which the houses are provided with what is called a Mun-pae, or “door-tablet,” on which are inscribed all the individuals of the family. The lists are transmitted through several channels before they reach Peking, and may occasionally, if not always, be liable to falsification by those who wish to flatter or gratify the court by the idea of increase. Taking the area of China at 1,200,000 square miles, we should, on the latest estimate, have three hundred inhabitants on a square mile, which is more than has been attributed to England or Holland.
Mr. Malthus, without seeming to have been aware of the disproportion between the census of Kâng-hy and that of Kien-loong, appears disposed to credit the 333,000,000 stated to Lord Macartney as the actual population of China at the end of the last century, on the ground of the extraordinary encouragements which are there given to the continual multiplication of the species. “The natural tendency,” he observes, “to increase is everywhere so great, that it will generally be easy to account for the height at which the population is found in any country. The more difficult, as well as the more interesting part of the inquiry, is to trace the immediate causes which stop its farther progress. The procreative power would, with as much facility, double in twenty-five years the population of China, as that of any of the states of America : but we know that it cannot do this, from the palpable inability of the soil to support such an additional number." The great increase that has certainly taken place since the depopulating effect of the Tartar conquest (though likely in reality to be considerably less than the Chinese census) has been in some measure a mere restoration to the land of the population which it before maintained ; in which respect the situation of the country has, to a certain degree, and for the time, been as favourable to increase as that of new colonies.
It is pretty generally admitted that, as the preventive checks in any country operate feebly in restraining the overflow of population, the positive checks will be called into more powerful action; and in this respect China affords a signal corroboration of the Malthusian doctrine. We have seen that the poorest persons are urged to marriage equally with the richest, by motives inherent in their institutions, and sentiments instilled into them from their birth. The only classes among whom the preventive check operates at all, are the priests of Fö, on whom celibacy is enjoined by their tenets, and the domestic slaves, whom the interests of their masters may occasionally prevent from marrying—though in the latter case we have seen that the law has stepped in with its interference in favour of increase. The positive checks are epidemics, starvation,* and infanticide, as far as the latter prevails. The general healthiness of the country is remarkable ; but the Peking Gazettes occasionally bear testimony to the ravages of sickness in particular districts, often the consequence of previous famine, whether resulting from drought, inundation, locusts, or other causes. The Sacred Edict warns the people against “ those years which happen from time to time, when epidemic distempers, joined to a scarcity of grain, make all places desolate.”
The public granaries are very poor provisions against
* The ordinary wages of labour appear, from the Leu-lee, to be equivalent to about sixpence a day, and this gives little more than a bare subsistence.