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it is to be hoped, happily ever after. Often the first proposal comes from the girl's family, and in that case a direct refusal is never given. A previous engagement is always pleaded, and regret expressed that such a fine offer cannot be accepted. Marriages are most expensive ceremonies in China, and it often takes a man a long while to clear off the debts he has contracted on this festive occasion. I have known men who were earning about 21. a month spending as much as 401. or 501. over the affair.
The Chinese have a firm belief in marriages being made in heaven. A certain deity, whom they call the Old Man of the Moon,' links with a silken cord, they say, all predestined couples. Early marriage is earnestly inculcated, and one of their maxims states that there are three cardinal sins, and that to die without offspring is the chief. As in other countries, spring is the time when young people's minds turn to thoughts of love, and most marriages are celebrated in February when the peach-tree blossoms appear. Among the marriage presents are live geese, which are supposed to be emblematical of the concord and happiness of the married state. A Chinaman may divorce his wife for seven different reasons, and in the list are ill-temper and a talkative disposition. The birth of a son is the occasion of much rejoicing, for without sons a man lives without honour and dies unhappy, with no one to worship at his grave and none to continue the family line. The boy is lessoned in good behaviour from his earliest years, and commences to read at the age of four or five. The Chinese language is by far the most difficult in the world, and even Chinese boys make but slow progress in its acquisition. All the sacred books composed by Confucius, Mencius, and other sages of the past, have to be committed to memory, and commentaries without end have to be waded through, analysed, and carefully digested. After days and nights of weary study a Chinese youth is fortunate if he gets his first degree at the age of twenty. This gives him only an honorary title, and if he aspires to a more substantial rank, he must compete again at the provincial capital against some thousands of his fellow provincials. When he gets through this, as he seldom does until after four or five trials, another and still more severe ordeal awaits him. He works hard for three years more, and goes to Peking to pit himself against all the rising talent of the Empire. There some ten thousand of the ablest students from all parts of the country are closeted in separate cells in an immense hall for nine days, during which they undergo all the agony attending the severest examination in the world. The list of successful candidates appears a few days later, and some three hundred out of the large number who have entered find themselves the fortunate possessors of a degree which at once opens up to them the path of official distinction. The first on the list is a far greater celebrity in his own country than a senior wrangler of Cambridge is with us, and if he is not a mere bookworm, he is pretty
certain to rise in the course of years to be the ruler of millions of his fellow-subjects. There is no limit of age for the examination, and instances have occurred where the grandfather, father, and son were all candidates at the same time. At nearly every one of these examinations one or more deaths occur amongst the candidates, and so strict are the regulations against unfair practices that the dead body is lowered by a rope from the wall of the building to prevent any ingress or egress. A few years ago one of the examiners went mad during the holding of the examination, and rather upset things generally.
The Chinese attach the greatest importance to ceremonial observances, and the impetuous European whose duties bring him frequently into contact with them finds it often rather irksome to go through a good quarter of an hour's bowing and scraping before proceeding to discuss business. If your visitor be an official whom you are meeting for the first time, and of whom you may have heard little or nothing before, Chinese politeness requires you to open the conversation by assuring him that his great reputation has reached your ears, and that you have been long yearning to see him. He returns the compliment by observing that your younger brother deems himself highly honoured by being admitted within your stately mansion, and expresses delight at the prospect of being a recipient of your instruction. You then ask his honourable surname, to which he replies that the debased one is called Chang. How many young gentlemen his family contains may elicit the rejoinder that he has seven young brats at home; and so the conversation continues until the stock of terms is exhausted. If the interview is an official one, a table bas been laid containing a certain number of dishes according to the rank of the guest. After a little while tea is brought in, and on receiving your cup you rise, walk round to your guest, and, raising it up in both hands, present it to him in as respectful a manner as possible. He repeats the same ceremony to you with the cup which has been handed to him, but your position as host makes it incumbent upon you to offer a show of opposition to such a proceeding on his part. A favourite exclamation on such an occasion is : Do you really, my dear sir, consider yourself a stranger, that you treat me thus in my own house ? '
After these preliminaries, business commences, and then the real word-fencing is called into play. The business may be of the simplest nature, still it cannot be transacted without a great deal of finessing. Let us take as a common instance the following :The Chinese employé of a British firm has absconded with a lot of dollars, and you go to demand his arrest. The man's name is Chang, and he belongs to the district of Lo. There are in all probability half-adozen places in the district called Lo, and after a careful scrutiny, in which the Chinese official gives little help, you find the identical one to which the guilty Chang belonged. The difficulty does not end
here, for you will find that there are at least a dozen Changs in the place, all of whom, according to their own account, have led highly respectable lives from their youth upwards. If you persevere still further, you may find at last the real and veritable Chang, but not the dollars, for these bave been spent in bribing the officials to screen him so long from punishment.
Prince Bismarck complained not long ago of the way our Foreign Office inundated him with despatches, but even the writing powers of Downing Street would not be a patch upon those of Chinese states
A masterly policy of inaction is there studied to perfection, and it is rare that any case is settled until reams of paper have been covered in threshing out every detail. A Chinese despatch must be written in a certain stereotyped form, and in acknowledging a despatch you must first begin by quoting in extenso all the documents to which you are replying. This system of reproducing all the previous correspondence proves very cumbersome as the case gradually develops. Like a lady's letter, however, the pith of a Chinese communication generally lies in the postscript, and a practised hand will grasp the meaning at a glance. The viceroy of a Chinese province peruses some hundreds of these documents every day, and attaches a minute to each in a business-like style which is not excelled by our best organised departments at home.
In social life Chinese officials are pleasant companions, and are often only too glad to make their escape from work and have a chat with a foreigner who takes an interest in their country. No official is allowed to be seen walking on foot within his own jurisdiction, and as their only mode of locomotion is by covered sedan-chairs, their range of vision is somewhat limited. Often they learn little things from the foreigner which would never have reached their ears in the manipulated reports of their subordinates. They are generally deeply read in the history and literature of their own country; and when it is stated that China has been a country of book-making for thousands of years, and that the art of printing was introduced there several centuries before it was known in Europe, it can easily be imagined that Chinese literature is far more bulky than that of any other nation. As an instance of the size of a single book, I may mention that, when leaving Peking some years ago, I brought down an encyclopædia, which formed a cargo for two moderately sized boats, as far as Tientsin, whence it was shipped to the British Museum. The Chinaman makes a laudable effort to meet the foreigner halfway. As a rule, he knows no European language, but he makes up for the defect by evincing the deepest interest in the student of his own tongue. If you are reading a Chinese work and have stumbled upon a disputed passage, you have only to mention your difficulty to an educated native, and he will take no end of trouble to assist you. When you quote the passage, his eye brightens and a smile passes over his whole countenance to find that an outer barbarian is dipping into his own favourite studies. He not only throws light upon the difficulty under review, but treats you to a long disquisition, quoting passage after passage in a way that makes one surprised at the tenacity of the human memory.
No notice of China would be considered complete in this country did it not contain some reference to opium, pigtails, and small feet. At home mention of China seems always to suggest visions of opium, and the very vastness of opium literature has given rise to rather confused opinions on the subject. Several eminent medical authorities both in India and China maintain that the use of opium is a comparatively harmless enjoyment, while others, whose opinions deserve equal respect, hold that it is the cause of untold evil to the Chinese. As usual in such cases, the truth probably lies between the two extremes. In China I have visited scores of opium shops, have seen hundreds of smokers in all stages of intoxication, and observation has convinced me that physically they are an inferior class. The sunken eye, haggard look, and lack-lustre expression of countenance too often clearly mark the habitual smoker; still, withal, he is certainly no worse than the dram-drinker in this country, and it may be as well to commence at home and put ou own house in order before trying to reform that of our Chinese friend at a distance. It must be remembered that, opium apart, the Chinese are eminently a sober race, and few are the people who have no indulgence. Whatever may have been the case in the past, the British Government can now no longer be charged with forcing its Indian opium on the Chinese. The Chinese Government receives a very handsome revenue from the import of the article, which it has frequently shown a desire to retain and increase as far as possible. The amount of opium grown in China equals, if it does not exceed, the total imported from India, and were the trade stopped to-morrow, the only result would be an immense increase in the cultivation of the poppy in China. The Chinese Government, fully appreciating the importance of establishing a good reputation in the West, does not object to pose as a martyr in the matter of opium before the British public, and this explains the contributions which its officers occasionally send to the Anti-Opium Society's publications. There are, it must be admitted, a few statesmen in China, like H. E. Chang Chih-tung, who are earnestly anxious to put a stop to the consumption of opium of every kind, but their action has no more influence on the policy of the Government than has that of the advocates of total abstinence in the direction of affairs in England. The practice of opium-smoking is undoubtedly increasing. Chinese will tell you that twenty years ago no respectable person would be seen smoking ; now every fashionable young fellow prides himself on his pipe, and no social meeting would pass off well without it. High and low, nearly all take a whiff of the seductive
drug. Some members of the imperial family are said to be hard smokers, many of the royal princes smoke, the majority of officials do the same, and working men squander a good deal of their hard earnings in the opium shop.
Of small feet and pigtails it is not necessary to say much. Both are considered ornaments in their way, and a nation whose sons wear bell-toppers, and whose daughters go in for a variety of distortions, must be chary of criticising other people's peculiarities. Pigtails, it may not generally be known, are not in their origin Chinese. When the present rulers of China, who are Manchus, seized upon the Empire over two centuries ago, they issued an edict commanding all Chinese to shave their heads and grow a tail like themselves. There was a good deal of trouble at first in enforcing such an order, but the Chinese have long ago forgotten that the appendage of which they are now so proud is a badge of conquest. It would be hard to find anywhere a more submissive subject or a more thoroughly goodnatured being than the Chinese peasant. His hard struggle for existence scarcely leaves him time to grumble with his lot. No mechanical inventions have yet relieved him from the burden of toil. His rice-fields have to be irrigated by the old-fashioned water-wheel, the fields themselves are ploughed by a primitive wooden plough which he carries home on his shoulder when his day's work is over, and his crop is reaped with the rudest of sickles, and brought to the stackyard on wheelbarrows. Night and morning he worships the tablets of his ancestors, and twice in the year-once in spring and once in autumn—he repairs to the graves of his family, and communes in spirit with the forefathers of his race. His knowledge of the world extends only to the next market town. No newspaper brings him intelligence from other lands, and to him China is the first and only pation in existence. All other countries are subordinate to the Emperor of China, and all the princes of the earth owe allegiance to the Court of Peking. Tell an ordinary countryman in the North that there are nations in Europe independent of China, and he smiles at your thinking him so innocent as to believe such a story. Peking itself still remains the head-quarters of Celestial igporance and prejudice. Nearly every state in Europe has its representative there, and in the streets you meet jolly, broad-faced, grinning Mongolians from the bleak North, stately yellow-robed Lamas from Thibet, the puny white-clad Corean from his forbidden land in the East, Anamese and Siainese from the South, and Nepaulese from the confines of our Indian Empire. The spectacle presented by such a motley variety of all nationalities only confirms the ordinary native in the belief that they have, one and all, come to pay their respects and offer their tribute to the Lord of all under heaven. In Southern China knowledge is a little more widely diffused, for emigration has there introduced a slight leavening of foreign influence. Still, its effect has VOL. XX.–No. 113.