Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

are still more left without excuse for their wickedness, since being without law, they are a law unto themselves: they have always known better than they have done. With a general regard for outward decency, they are vile and polluted in a shocking degree, their conversation is full of filthy expressions and their lives of impure acts. They are somewhat restrained in the latter by the fences put around the family circle, so that seduction and adultery are comparatively infrequent, the former may even be said to be rare; but brothels and their inmates occur everywhere on land and on water. One danger attending young girls going abroad alone, is, that they will be stolen for incarceration in these gates of hell. By pictures, songs, and aphrodisiacs, they excite their sensuality, and, as the apostle says, “receive in themselves that recompense of their error which is meet.” As long as they love to wallow in this filth, they cannot advance, and all experience proves that nothing but the gospel can cleanse and purify its fountain. More uneradicable than the sins of the flesh is the falsity of the Chinese, and its attendant sin of base ingratitude; their disregard of truth has perhaps done more to lower their character in the

eyes of Christendom than any other fault. They feel no shame

at being detected in a lie, though they have not gone quite so far as not to know when they do lie, nor do they fear any punishment from their gods for it. Every resident among them, and all travellers declaim against their mendacity, but can it be expected that the heathen should practise truth without knowing a God of truth, who is everywhere present to see the infractions of his law, when even those who do know it fail so much in this particular It would be a strange wonder in the world to find a heathen people who did speak the truth; and yet the necessity of the case compels them, in their daily intercourse with each other, to pay some regard to it, and each man, from his own consciousness, knows just about how much to expect. Ambassadors and merchants have not been in the best position to ascertain their real character in this respect; for on the one hand the courtiers of Peking thought themselves called upon by the mere presence of an embassy to put on some fictitious appearances, and on the other, the integrity and fair dealing of the hong-merchants and great traders at Canton, is in advance of the usual mercantile honesty of their countrymen. A Chinese requires but little

MENDACITY OF THE CHINESE. 97

motive to falsify, and he is constantly sharpening his wits to cozen his customer, wheedle him by promises, and cheat him in goods or work. There is nothing which tries one so much when living among them as their disregard of truth, and renders him so indifferent as to what calamities befall so mendacious a race; an abiding impression of suspicion rests upon the mind towards everybody, which chills the warmest wishes for their welfare, and thwarts many a plan to benefit them. Their better traits diminish in the distance, and the patience is exhausted, when in daily proximity and friction with this ancestor of sins. Their proneness to this fault is one of the greatest obstacles to their permanent improvement as a people, while it constantly disheartens those who are making efforts to teach them. Mr. Abeel mentions a case of deceit, which may serve as a specimen.

“Soon after we arrived at Kulang su, a man came to us who professed to be the near relation and guardian of the owners of the house in which we live, and presented a little boy as the joint proprietor with his widowed mother. From the appearance of the house and the testimony of others, we could easily credit his story that the family were now in reduced circumstances, having not only lost the house when the English attacked the place, but a thousand dollars besides by native robbers; we therefore allowed him a small rent, and gave the dollars to the man who put them into the hands of the child. The next month he made his appearance, but our servant, whom we had taken to be peculiarly honest for a heathen, suggested the propriety of inquiring whether the money was ever given to those for whom it was professedly received; and soon returned with the information that the mother had heard nothing of the money, the man who received it not living in the family, but had now sent a lad to us who would receive it for her, and who our servants assured us would give it to the proper person. A day or two afterwards our cook whispered to me that our honest servant, who had taken so much pains to prevent all fraud in the matter, had made the lad give him one half of the money for his disinterestedness in preventing it from falling into improper hands; and further examination showed us that this very cook had himself received a good share to keep silent.”

Thieving is exceedingly common, and the illegal exactions of the rulers are burdensome. This vice, too, is somewhat restrained by the punishments inflicted on criminals, though the root of the evil is not touched. While the licentiousness of the Chinese may be in part ascribed to their ignorance of pure intellectual pleasures, and the want of virtuous female society, so may their lying be attributed partly to their truckling fear of officers, and their thievery to the want of sufficient food or work. Hospitality is not a trait of their character; on the contrary, the number and wretched condition of the beggars show that public and private charity is almost extinct; yet here too, the sweeping charge must be modified when we remember the efforts they make to sustain their relatives and families in so densely peopled a country. Their avarice is not so distinguishing a feature as their love of money, but the industry which this desire induces or presupposes is the source of most of their superiority to their neighbors. The politeness which they exhibit seldom has its motive in goodwill, and consequently, when the varnish is off, the rudeness, brutality, and coarseness of the material is seen; still, among themselves, this exterior polish is not without some good results in preventing quarrels, where both parties, fully understanding each other, are careful not to overpass the bounds of etiquette. On the whole, the Chinese present a singular mixture; if there is something to commend, there is more to blame; if they have some glaring vices, they have more virtues than most pagan nations. Ostentatious kindness and inbred suspicion, ceremo

nious civility and real rudeness, partial invention and servile :

imitation, industry and waste, sycophancy and self-dependence, are with other dark and bright qualities, strangely blended. In trying to remedy the faults of their character by the restraints of law and the diffusion of education, they have no doubt hit upon the right mode; and their shortcomings show how ineffectual both must be until the Gospel comes to the aid of ruler and subject, in elevating the moral sense of the whole nation. This has now commenced, and every day adds fresh proof of the necessity of missionary labors among this remarkable people. Facts of daily occurrence brought to the knowledge of the missionaries reveal the prevalence of the most fearful immoralities, and furnish a melancholy insight into the desolating horrors of paganism. Female infanticide in some parts openly confessed, and divested of all disgrace and penalties everywhere ; the dreadful prevalence of all the vices charged by the apostle Paul upon the ancient heathen world; the alarming extent of the use of opium (furnished too by British and American merchants), destroying the productions and natural resources of the people; the univer

SUMMARY OF CHINEse character. 99

sal practice of lying and dishonest dealings; the unblushing lewdness of old and young; harsh cruelty towards prisoners by officers, and tyranny over slaves by masters;–all forming a full unchecked torrent of human depravity, and proving the existence of a kind and degree of moral degradation, of which an excessive statement can scarcely be made, or an adequate conception hardly be formed. We do not wish to depict the Chinese worse than they are, nor to dwell so much on their good qualities as to lead one to suppose they stand in no need of the Gospel. Barrow says missionaries “might have had their motives for setting the Chinese in the fairest point of view ;” and he goes on to criticise them for their too favorable coloring. On the other side, McCulloch remarks, speaking of China, “that it is so obviously the interest of the missionaries, by depreciating the moral and religious character of those they are laboring amongst, to exalt their own utility and importance, and to justify their claims to the patronage and support of the Christian public, that their statements can hardly be supposed to be free from bias.” Who shall decide It is abundantly easy for persons in their closets, as these gentlemen were, to criticise; but until they have themselves engaged in such labors, and speak from personal knowledge, let not their opinion be taken for more than it is worth.

* Barrow's Travels in China, page 30. McCulloch's Geographical Dictionary, Vol. I., page 605. Smith's China, page 489.

CHAPTER XV.
Industrial Arts of the Chinese.

THE superiority of the Chinese over their neighbors in the enjoyments of life, and the degree of security individuals can look for under the protection of law, are owing chiefly to their industry. Agriculture holds the first place in their estimation, among the branches of labor, and the honors paid to it by the annual ploughing ceremony are given from a deep sense of its importance to the public welfare; not alone to provide a regular supply of food and labor for so ignorant a population, but also to meet the wants of government by moderate taxes, and long experience of the greater ease of governing an agricultural than a mercantile or warlike community. Notwithstanding the encouragement given to tillage, vast tracts of land still lie waste, some of it the most fertile in the country; partly because the people have not the skill and capital to drain and render it productive, and partly because they have not sufficient security or prospect of remuneration to encourage them to make the necessary outlay. Landed property is held in clans or families as much as possible, but it is not entailed, nor are overgrown estates frequent. The land is held as a freehold so long as the sovereign receives his rent, which is estimated at about one tenth of the produce, and the proprietors record their names in the district magistrate’s office as responsible for the tax, feeling themselves secure in the possession while that is paid. The paternal estate and the houses upon it descend to the eldest son, but his brothers can remain upon it with their families, and devise their portion in perpetuo to their children, or an amicable composition can be made ; daughters never inherit, nor can an adopted son of another clan succeed. A mortgagee must actually enter into possession of the property, and make himself personally responsible for the payment of the taxes, before his mortgage is valid; unless explicitly stated, the land can be redeemed any time

« EdellinenJatka »