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the numerous personages of this Chinese performance. Twelve stone steps led up to the vast inclosure where the judges were placed ; on each side of this staircase was a line of executioners in red dresses ; and when the accused passed tranquilly through their ranks, they all cried out with a loud voice, “ Tremble! Tremble !” and rattled their instruments of torture. We were stopped at about the middle of the hall, and then eight officers of the court proclaimed in a chanting voice the customary formula: “ Accused on your knees! on your knees!” The accused remained silent and motionless. The summons was repeated, but there was still no alteration in their attitude. The two officers with the Crystal Ball now thought themselves called on to come to our assistance, and pulled our arms to help us to kneel down. But a solemn look and some few emphatic words sufficed to make them let go their hold. They even judged it expedient to retire a little, and keep a respectful distance.
“ Every empire,” said we, addressing our judges, “ has its own customs and manners. When we appeared before the ambassador Ki Chan at Lha-ssa, we remained standing, and Ki Chan considered that in doing so we were only acting with reasonable conformity to the customs of our country.'
We waited for an answer from the president, but he remained dumb... This somewhat burlesque behaviour lasted long enough to enable us to study quite at our ease the curious society in which we found ourselves, and it was so amusing that we began to gossip together in French, though in a low voice, communicating to each other our little momentary impressions. Had this lasted much longer, it might have ended in upsetting our gravity; but, luckily, the president made up his mind to break his majestic silence.' (Vol. i. pp. 49, 50, 51.)
Previous to the second appearance at their trial, the mandarins used every effort, - coaxing, menacing, arguing, expostulating by turns— to bring the stubborn knees of our travellers to the proper degree of pliancy. But all in vain.
• They brought a crowd of arguments to convince us that we ought to go down on our knees before him. In the first place, it was a prodigious honour for us to be admitted to his presence at all, since he might be considered as a sort of diminutive of the Son of Heaven. Then, to remain standing straight upright before him would be to offer him an insult ; besides giving him
a very bad idea of our education, it would irritate him, — would alter the good disposition he had towards us, — would draw down his anger upon us; and, moreover, they added, whether we liked it or not, we should find ourselves compelled to kneel: it would be impossible for us to resist the influence of his majestic presence.
* We ourselves felt pretty sure of the contrary; and we declared to the prefect, that he might depend upon it that would not happen.' (Vol. i. p. 70.)
And so it is throughout the book. The narrative of the per
petual battling between official chicanery and roguery, and the stolid resolution of the missionaries to have their own way, is not only very amusing, but, we may add, is perpetually varied. Our missionary friends are very strategical, and encounter Chinese finesse by French politesse with signal skill. When the Chinese, under pretence of treating them better, would treat them worse than their privileges permit, the victims of course cannot think of giving so much trouble; or if the Chinese apologise for inferior equipments and accommodation, from haste to set them forward on the next stage, where they will be better treated, our missionaries straightway are in no hurry, can wait their leisure, and would like, of all things, to stay awhile and look about them. Everywhere they will have their own way, and not only adopt their own western customs' when it suits them, but those of the Chinese too; and to the great horror of the celestial' folks, and spite of perpetual remonstrances and objurgation, go flaring through the empire in the all but sacred finery of yellow
caps and red girdles!'. In short, the triumph of these two intractable captives reminds us of the dialogue on the field of battle between the soldier and his comrade :--Tom, I've taken ' a prisoner. Bring him along with you, then.' He won't ' •
' • come.' Come without him then.' He won't let me,' Two French Lazarists, it seems, passed in safety, by a bold assertion of their pretensions, through the Chinese empire, where at a thousand points they might have been put out of the way, (and none have been the wiser,) by a thousandth part of the wickedness which by nature and habit belongs to knavish Chinese officials, had these but had a few grains less timidity. Veni, vidi, vici,' might be the motto of M. Huc or his comrade.
During their triumphal progress, they are amused to see their road cleared before them by the free application of the rattan' over the head and shoulders of all who did not get out of the way, or who omitted to offer respectful salutes, - just as before some state functionary. The escort, M. Huc tells us, seemed to perform this part of their office quite con amore! It is but justice, however, to say, that exquisitely droll as it must have been to sce two French missionaries making such a commotion in the world, they humanely deprecated this part of the “barbaric * pomp' with which their escort sought to glorify them. But in vain; this portion of their privileges Master Ting and everyone else was indisposed to curtail.
We have remarked that the chief value of this work is in its authentic account of Chinese manners, customs, and opinions. In the preface, M. Huc says that the first accounts of the Jesuit missionaries led to an exaggerated estimate of Chinese power VOL. CI. NO. CCVI.
and civilisation. At subsequent periods, he thinks that the Chinese national pretensions were too much depreciated, in consequence of the descriptions of modern travellers -- to whom, as being generally “laic, M. Remusat deems that an undue authority has been attached. Of the disadvantages under which such travellers for the most part wrote, we have already spoken; nor will any one wonder at them who reads the preceding citation from M. Huc's preface; or its context, which we have no room to quote. At the same time, we must candidly confess that, - however accurate M. Huc's sketches may be considered, — if he supposes that the Chinese national character comes out more imposing in his panoramic representations than in those of other modern travellers, we apprehend he is greatly mistaken. For ourselves, we have never risen from the perusal of any book on China with such deep and strong impressions to the disadvantage of the nation; of the rottenness of its institutions; of the universal chicanery, knavishness, and insincerity of all classes of the people ; of the utter destitution of everything like earnest and sincere faith in anything; of the universal prevalence of social habits totally incompatible with the stability of a nation infected by them; and, in a word, of the presence of all those characteristics which infallibly mark an empire in the last stage of decrepitude and decline, and too surely prognosticate its approaching dissolution.
There are three characteristics of the Chinese nation which after reading almost any book on China at once strike the reflecting student.
One is the comparative dissimilarity they present to any other nation. Among them we are less reminded of the characteristics of ordinary human communities than among even New Zealanders and Hottentots. If we look at savage nations, we still see amidst them the rude germs of what, by instruction from without, may be readily developed into the ordinary and normal forms of civilisation. Among the Chinese, we see not only much that is defective, but more that is abnormal; and to complete the contrast, we find, in many respects, the extremes of civilisation and barbarism side by side ; – the most refined culture and the most artificial civilisation in combination with astounding ignorance, prejudice, and childishness. But even in points in which they are not barbarians, but highly cultivated and artificial, how dissimilar is what we find with what we see elsewhere! How contrasted with all else that is human! Whether we look at the more important characteristics-as, for example, the language, so essentially unlike all that is found in the numberless other languages by which the human race has
learned to communicate its thoughts, — or the jealous polity with which China has insulated itself from the rest of the world, and persisted in being a world of itself, -- or whether we look at its more trivial characteristics as manifested in its farrago of exceedingly odd social customs, - we seem to see an example of a people who resolved to show how great might be the varieties of the human species without absolutely destroying the identity of the genus. Striking as are the various usages of mankind, nowhere are contrasts so startling or so numerous as here. Chinese customs are odd enough, taken alone; their tout ensemble is irresistible. As we think of the men's shaven heads and eyebrows, and long tails ; of the women's little knobs to their lower extremities, which they miscall feet; of faces dyed yellow, to increase their beauty ; of white and yellow mourning; of the odd usages of their daily life, where the natural order, as we fondly call it, seems so strangely inverted, — where the dinner commences with the dessert and ends with the joints,— where the wine is drunk scalding hot, the viands are snapped up with chopsticks, and each guest signifies that he has done by placing his chopsticks on the top of his head ; of people who, according to M. Huc, think nothing of dying, but whose solicitudes are entirely engrossed by inordinate cares about the funeral and the coffin ;-when we think of these and a thousand other things, taken in conjunction with the mysterious language and the stupendous institutions, we hardly seem less struck than by any of the wonders that Marco Polo related of Cathay; his strangest fables hardly surpass these realities.
Another not less striking peculiarity of this singular nation, and another proof of extreme dissimilarity to the rest of the world, is the contrast it presents with other nations in point of progress, when the first steps of an indefinite improvement would seem to have been already secured.
The origin and history of Chinese civilisation is a problem which has hitherto baffled all historians and antiquaries. That it dates from a very remote period, there cannot be a doubt; that it was rapidly brought to the point at which it has been for ages, is highly probable ; but when it had reached its present point, then, as has been often remarked, it remained stationary. Possessed, in an elementary form, long before the Europeans were even in the infancy of civilisation, of the greatest of all human discoveries, having the knowledge of the compass, of printing, and of the composition of gunpowder,—the three principal material agents of all the progress of the modern civilised world, -- the Chinese never turned them to any adequate account. Their intricate compass never led on to navigation or
commerce at all proportionable to the possession of such a precious instrument; their printing never led to a literature, whether of philosophy or science, at all worthy of so glorious an invention*; while their gunpowder was exclusively employed in fireworks! In like manner, they were acquainted with the circulation of the blood ages before Harvey was born ; and yet anatomy and medicine are nearly as well known to the rudest savages as to the Chinese. Having carried several species of arts and manufactures to a great pitch of refinement, we need not remind the reader of their silks and their porcelain,-not only do these remain much as they have been for ages, but they have led on to no proportionate general progress in the arts of social life. We see the rudest and the most refined processes, the veriest barbarism and the highest refinement, side by side in their whole social condition.
The third characteristic — which also is partially illustrated by the second is not less marked.
It is the unexampled tenacity with which the Chinese mind retains the impressions once imprinted on it. It resembles its printing-blocks, — the characters stereotyped for ever. Thus forms are rigorously adhered to when their origin is lost, and institutions inflexibly maintained when their vitality is departed. It will be observed that we are not here speaking of the falsely imputed political immobility of the Empire. This, as M. Huc and other writers have shown, is a delusion. Few, if any nations, have suffered so many or such tremendous political revolutions; no history is marked by more rapid changes of dynasty. We are speaking simply of the tenacity of laws, customs, and manners, and all the forms of social life. This is so strong that changes of dynasty have not materially shaken it, and the conquerors themselves have generally been vanquished by it.
Of the gravity with which the Rites' (as they are called) are expounded, inculcated, enforced and performed, although, in many cases, a mere pantomime of etiquette; of the universal traditional reception of customs, the significance of which is as universally disregarded,
the reader will see perpetual amusing examples in the pages of M. Huc. Of these we shall have occasion to cite a few. As we read, we seem to be gazing at the
They have sometimes been also reproached with never having improved their block printing into printing by moveable types, which would seem to be an easy step; but to this it may be said, that considering the nature of their language and their modes of printing, it may be doubted whether printing by moveable types would have been attended with any advantage. It has also been asserted that the idea was not absolutely unknown to them.