eBooksRead.com books search new books
Arthur Henderson Smith.

Chinese characteristics online

. (page 1 of 26)
Online LibraryArthur Henderson SmithChinese characteristics → online text (page 1 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

*



ARTHUR H, SMITH, P. D.










LIBRARY

UNIVERSITY OF
CALIFORNIA

SAN DIEGO



CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS




TUNG CHOU
PAGODA

NEAR PEKING.



MEMORIAL AKCH.




NATIVE CHILDREN IN COURTYARD



TURTLE MONUMENT.



Chinese Characteristics



BY

Arthur H. Smith

Twenty-two Years a Missionary of the American Board in China



Fifth Edition, Revised, with Illustrations




NEW YORK CHICAGO TORONTO

Fleming H. Revell Company

Publishers of Evangelical Literature



Copyright, 1894,
BY FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY.



CONTENTS.



CHAPTER PAGE

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 7

INTRODUCTION 9

I. FACE 16

II. ECONOMY 19

III. INDUSTRY 27

IV. POLITENESS 35

V. THE DISREGARD OF TIME 41

VI. THE DISREGARD OF ACCURACY 48

VII. THE TALENT FOR MISUNDERSTANDING 58

VIII. THE TALENT FOR INDIRECTION 65

IX. FLEXIBLE INFLEXIBILITY 74

X. INTELLECTUAL TURBIDITY 82

'XI. THE ABSENCE OF NERVES 90

XII. CONTEMPT FOR FOREIGNERS 98

XIII. THE ABSENCE OF PUBLIC SPIRIT 107

XIV. CONSERVATISM 115

XV. INDIFFERENCE TO COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE 125

XVI. PHYSICAL VITALITY 144

XVII. PATIENCE AND PERSEVERANCE 152

5



6 CONTENTS

CHAPTER PACK

XVIII. CONTENT AND CHEERFULNESS 162

XIX. FILIAL PIETY 171

XX. BENEVOLENCE 186

XXI. THE ABSENCE OF SYMPATHY 194

XXII. SOCIAL TYPHOONS 217

XXIII. MUTUAL RESPONSIBILITY AND RESPECT FOR LAW . . . 226

XXIV. MUTUAL SUSPICION 242

XXV. THE ABSENCE OF SINCERITY 266

XXVI. POLYTHEISM, PANTHEISM, ATHEISM 287

XXVII. THE REAL CONDITION OF CHINA AND HER PRESENT

NEEDS 314

GLOSSARY 331

INDEX 333



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.*



TUNG-CHOU PAGODA, NEAR
A MEMORIAL ARCH..



.- frontispiece.
NATIVE CHILDREN IN COURTYARD

TURTLE MONUMENT

FACING PAGE

A CHINESE KITCHEN, SHOWING METHOD OF PREPARING FOOD ... 19

PASSENGER BOAT ON THE PEI Ho, NORTH CHINA 30

CARPENTERS SAWING LARGE TIMBER 44

CHINESE PERFORMERS IN STAGE DRESS 54

A PEKING CART 60

CHINESE CARD-PLAYERS 70

THE EMPRESS DOWAGER OF CHINA 98

A CHINESE BARBER 118

ENGINE WORKS AND YARD AT HANYANG 122

A MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILY IN WINTER DRESS 127

INTERIOR OF A MOHAMMEDAN MOSQUE 171

NATIVE WOMEN SEWING AND WEAVING LACE 200

FOUR GENERATIONS 217

A PORTION OF THE GREAT CHINESE WALL 242

A CHINESE BOYS' SCHOOL (CHRISTIAN) 251

THE TEMPLE OF HEAVEN, PEKING 287

A CHINESE IDOL 300

CAMEL'S-BACK BRIDGE, ON THE GROUNDS OF THE EMPEROR'S
SUMMER PALACE 318

* For the use of original photographs, from which engravings have been made
and here published for the first time, the author and publishers desire to acknowl-
edge their indebtedness to Miss J. G. Evans of Tung-Chou, for frontispiece and
illustrations facing pages 30, 44, 118, 171, 217, 243 and 300; and to the Rev. G. S.
Hays of Chefoo, for illustrations facing pages 19, 70, 200, and 251.



Within the Four Seas all are brethren.

Confucian Analects, XII. , v. 4.

The scientific study of Man is the most difficult of all branches
of knowledge.

O. W. Holmes.

We are firm believers in the maxim that for all right judgment
of any man or thing it is useful nay, essential to see his

good qualities before pronouncing on his bad.

Carlyle.




CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS



INTRODUCTION.

A WITNESS when put upon the stand is expected to tell
-/JL the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Many witnesses concerning the Chinese have told the truth,
but perhaps few of them have succeeded in telling nothing-
but the truth, and no one of them has ever told the whole
truth. No single individual, whatever the extent of his knowl-
edge, could by any possibility know the whole truth about
the Chinese. The present volume of essays is therefore open
to objection from three different points of view.

First, it may be said that the attempt to convey to others
an idea of the real characteristics of the Chinese is vain.
Mr. George Wingrove Cooke, the China correspondent of the
London Times in 1857-58, enjoyed as good an opportunity
of seeing the Chinese under varied circumstances, and through
the eyes of those well qualified to help him to a just under-
standing of the people, as any writer on China up to that
time. In the preface to his published letters, Mr. Cooke

9



io INTRODUCTION

apologises as follows for his failure to describe the Chinese
character: "1 have, in these letters, introduced no elaborate
essay upon Chinese character. It is a great omission. No
theme could be more tempting, no subject could afford wider
scope for ingenious hypothesis, profound generalisation, and
triumphant dogmatism. Every small critic will probably
utterly despise me for not having made something out of
such opportunities. The truth is, that I have written several
very fine characters for the whole Chinese race, but having
the misfortune to have the people under my eye at the same
time with my essay, they were always saying something or
doing something which rubbed so rudely against my hypothe-
sis, that in the interest of truth I burnt several successive
letters. I may add that I have often talked over this matter
with the most eminent and candid sinologues, and have
always found them ready to agree with me as to the impos-
sibility of a conception of Chinese character as a whole.
These difficulties, however, occur only to those who know the
Chinese practically ; a smart writer, entirely ignorant of the
subject, might readily strike off a brilliant and antithetical
analysis, which should leave nothing to be desired but truth.
Some day, perhaps, we may acquire the necessary knowledge
to give to each of the glaring. inconsistencies of a Chinaman's
mind its proper weight and influence in the general mass. At
present, I, at least, must be content to avoid strict definitions,
and to describe a Chinaman* by his most prominent qualities."
Within the past thirty years, the Chinese has made himself
a factor in the affairs of many lands. He is seen to be irre-

* It is a matter of surprise, and even more of regret, that this barba-
rous compound seems to have rooted itself in the English language, to the
exclusion of the proper word Chinese. We do not know of a foreign
periodical in China in which natives of that country are not constantly
called " Chinamen," nor of a single writer in the Empire who consistently
avoids the use of the term.



INTRODUCTION 11

pressible ; is felt to be incomprehensible. He cannot, indeed,
be rightly understood in any country but China, yet the im-
pression still prevails that he is a bundle of contradictions who
cannot be understood at all. But after all there is no ap-
parent reason, now that several hundred years of our ac-
quaintance with China have elapsed, why what is actually
known of its people should not be co-ordinated, as well as
any other combination of complex phenomena.

A more serious objection to this particular volume is that
the author has no adequate qualifications for writing, it. The
circumstance that a person has lived for twenty-two years in
China is no more a guarantee that he is competent to write
of the characteristics of the Chinese, than the fact that another
man has for twenty-two years been buried in a silver mine is
a proof that he is a fit person to compose a treatise on metal-
lurgy, or on bi-metallism. China is a vast whole, and one
who has never even visited more than half its provinces, and
who has lived in but two of them, is certainly not entitled to
generalise for the whole Empire. These papers were origi-
nally prepared for the North- China Daily News of Shanghai,
with no reference to any wider circulation. Some of the
topics treated excited, however, so much interest, not only in
China, but also in Great Britain, in the United States, and in
Canada, that the author was asked to reproduce the articles
in a permanent form.*

A third objection, which will be offered by some, is that
parts of the views here presented, especially those which deal
with the moral character of the Chinese, are misleading and
unjust.

It should be remembered, however, that impressions are
not like statistics which may be corrected to a fraction. They

* " Chinese Characteristics " was published in Shanghai in 1890; after
being widely circulated throughout China and the East, the edition was
exhausted more than two years ago.



12 INTRODUCTION

rather resemble photographic negatives, no two of which may
be alike, yet each of them may present truthfully something
not observable in any of the rest. The plates on which the
photographs are taken differ ; so do the lenses, and the develop-
ers, and the resulting views differ too.

Many old residents of China, whose knowledge of the
country is very much greater than that of the writer, have ex-
pressed themselves as in substantial agreement with his opin-
ions, while others, whose judgment is entitled to equal respect,
think that a somewhat lighter colouring in certain parts would
increase the fidelity of the too "monochromatic" picture.
With this undoubtedly just criticism in mind, the work has
been revised and amended throughout. While the exigencies
of republication at this time have rendered convenient the
omission of one-third of the characteristics originally dis-
cussed, those that remain contain nevertheless the most im-
portant portions of the whole, and the chapter on Content and
Cheerfulness is altogether new.

There can be no valid excuse for withholding commendation
from the Chinese for any one of the many good qualities which
they possess and exhibit. At the same time, there is a danger
of yielding to h priori considerations, and giving the Chinese
credit for a higher practical morality than they can justly claim
an evil not less serious than indiscriminate condemnation.
It is related of Thackeray, that he was once asked how it hap-
pened that the good people in his novels were always stupid,
and the bad people clever. To this the great satirist replied
that he had no brains above his eyes. There is a wood-cut
representing an oak tree, in the outlines of which the observer
is invited to detect a profile of Napoleon on the island of
St. Helena, standing with bowed head and folded arms. Pro-
tracted contemplation frequently fails to discover any such
profile, and it would seem that there must be some mistake,
but when once it is clearly pointed out, it is impossible to look



INTRODUCTION 13

at the picture and not see the Napoleon too. In like manner,
many things are to be seen in China which do not at first
appear, and many of them once seen are never forgotten.

While it has been impossible to introduce a qualifying clause
into every sentence which is general in its form, the reader is
expressly warned that these papers are not intended to be
generalisations for a whole Empire, nor yet comprehensive
abstracts of what foreigners have observed and experienced.
What they are intended to be is merely a notation of the im-
pression which has been made upon one observer, by a few
out of many " Chinese Characteristics." They are not meant
as a portrait of the Chinese people, but rather as mere outline
sketches in charcoal of some features of the Chinese people, as
they have been seen by that one observer. Taken together,
they constitute only a single ray, of which an indefinite number
are required to form a complete beam of white light. They
may also be considered as studies in induction, in which many
particulars taken from the experience not of the writer only,
but of various other individuals at various times, are grouped.
It is for this reason that the subject has been so largely treated
by exemplification.

Mr. Meadows, the most philosophical of the many writers
on China and the Chinese, expressed the opinion that the
best way to convey to the mind of another person a correct
idea of the genius of a foreign people would be to hand him
for perusal a collection of notes, formed by carefully recording
great numbers of incidents which had attracted one's attention,
particularly those that seemed at all extraordinary, together
with the explanation of the extraordinary parts as given by
natives of the country.

From a sufficient number of such incidents a general prin-
ciple is inferred. The inferences may be doubted or denied,
but such particulars as are cited cannot, for that reason alone,
be set aside, being so far as they go truthful, and they must



14 INTRODUCTION

ultimately be reckoned with in any theory of the Chinese
character.

The difficulty of comparing Chinese with Anglo-Saxons will
be most strongly felt by those who have attempted it. To
such it will soon become evident that many things which
seem " characteristic " of the Chinese are merely Oriental
traits ; but to what extent this is true, each reader in the light
of his own experience must judge for himself.

It has been said that in the present stage of our intercourse
with Chinese there are three ways in which we can come to
some knowledge of their social life by the study of their
novels, their ballads, and their,plays. Each of these sources
of information doubtless has its worth, but there is likewise
a fourth, more valuable than all of them combined, a source

I' not open to every one who writes on China and the Chinese.
It is the study of the family life of the Chinese in their own"
i homes. As the topography of a district can be much better
understood in the country than in the city, so it is with the
characteristics of the people. A foreigner may live in a Chi-
nese city for a decade, and not gain as much knowledge of
the interior life of the people as he can acquire by living twelve
months in a Chinese village. Next to the Family we must
regard the Village as the unit of Chinese social life, and it is
therefore from the standpoint of a Chinese village that these
papers have been written. They are of purpose not intended
to represent the point of view of a missionary, but that of an
observer not consciously prejudiced, who simply reports what
he sees. For this reason no reference is made to any charac-
teristics of the Chinese as they may be modified by Christian-
ity. It is not assumed that the Chinese need Christianity at
all, but if it appears that there are grave defects in their char-
acter, it is a fair question how those defects may be remedied.
The " Chinese question," as already remarked, is now far
more than a national one. It is international. There is rea-



INTRODUCTION 1 5

son to think that in the twentieth century it will be an even
more pressing question than at present. The problem of the
means by which so vast a part of the human race may be im-
proved cannot be without interest to any one who wishes
well to mankind. If the conclusions to which we may find
ourselves led are correct, they will be supported by a line of
argument heretofore too much neglected. If these conclusions
are wrong, they will, however supported, fall of themselves.

It is many years since Lord Elgin's reply to an address
from the merchants of Shanghai, but his words are true and
pertinent to-day. " When the barriers which prevent free
access to the interior of the country shall have been removed,
Christian civilisation of the West will find itself face to face
not with barbarism, but with an ancient civilisation in many
respects effete and imperfect, but in others not without claims
to our sympathy and respect. In the rivalry which will then
ensue, Christian civilisation will have to win its way among a
sceptical and ingenious people, by making it manifest that a
faith which reaches to heaven furnishes better guarantees for
public and private morality than one which does not rise
above the earth."




\



CHAPTER I.



FACE.

AT first sight nothing can be more irrational than to call
-fx. that which is shared with the whole human race a " char-
acteristic " of the Chinese. But the word " face " does not in
China signify simply the front part of the head, but is literally
a compound noun of multitude, with more meanings than we
shall be able to describe, or perhaps to comprehend.

In order to understand, however imperfectly, what is meant
by " face," we must take account of the fact that as a race the
Chinese have a strongly dramatic instinct. The theatre may
almost be said to be the only national amusement, and the
Chinese have for theatricals a passion like that of the English-
man for athletics, or the Spaniard for bull-fights. Upon very
slight provocation, any Chinese regards himself in the light of
an actor in a drama. He throws himself into theatrical atti-
tudes, performs the salaam, falls upon his knees, prostrates him-
self and strikes his head upon the earth, under circumstances
which to an Occidental seem to make such actions super-
fluous, not to say ridiculous. A Chinese thinks in theatrical
terms. When roused in self-defence he addresses two or
three persons as if they were a multitude. He exclaims : " I
say this in the presence of You, and You, and You, who are all
here present." If his troubles are adjusted he speaks of him-
self as having " got off the stage " with credit, and if they are
not adjusted he finds no way to "retire from the stage." All
this, be it clearly understood, has nothing to do with realities,

16



FACE 17

The question is never of facts, but always of form. If a fine
speech has been delivered at the proper time and in the proper
way, the requirement of the play is met. We are not to go
behind the scenes, for that would spoil all the plays in the
world. Properly to execute acts like these in all the complex
relations of life, is to have " face." To fail of them, to ignore
them, to be thwarted in the performance of them, this is to
" lose face." Once rightly apprehended, " face " will be found
to be in itself a key to the combination lock of many of the
most important characteristics of the Chinese.

It should be added that the principles which regulate "face"
and its attainment are often wholly beyond the intellectual
apprehension of the Occidental, who is constantly forgetting
the theatrical element, and wandering off into the irrelevant
regions of fact. To him it often seems that Chinese " face "
is not unlike the South Sea Island taboo, a force of undeniable
potency, but capricious, and not reducible to rule, deserving
only to be abolished and replaced by common sense. At this
point Chinese and Occidentals must agree to disagree, for they
can never be brought to view the same things in the same
light. In the adjustment of the incessant quarrels which
distract every hamlet, it is necessary for the "peace-talkers"
to take as careful account of the balance of " face " as Euro-
pean statesmen once did of the balance of power. The object
in such cases is not the execution of even-handed justice,
which, even if theoretically desirable, seldom occurs to an
Oriental as a possibility, but such an arrangement as will dis-
tribute to all concerned " face '' in due proportions. The
same principle often obtains in the settlement of lawsuits, a
very large percentage of which end in what may be called a
drawn game. J

To offer a person a handsome present is to " give him face."
But if the gift be from an individual it should be accepted only
in part, but should seldom or never be altogether refused. A



1 8 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS

few examples of the thirst for keeping face will suffice for illus-
tration. To be accused of a fault is to " lose face," and the
fact must be denied, no matter what the evidence, in order
to save face. A tennis-ball is missed, and it is more than sus-
pected that a coolie picked it up. He indignantly denies it,
but goes to the spot where the ball disappeared, and soon
finds it lying there (dropped out of his sleeve), remarking,
" Here is your ' lost ' ball." The waiting-woman who secreted
the penknife of a guest in her master's house afterwards dis-
covers it under the table-cloth, and ostentatiously produces it.
In each case " face " is saved. The servant who has care-
lessly lost an article which he knows he must replace or forfeit
an equivalent from his wages, remarks loftily, as he takes his
dismissal, " The money for that silver spoon I do not want,"
and thus his " face " is intact. A man has a debt owing to
him which he knows that he shall not collect ; but going to
the debtor, he raises a terrible disturbance, by which means
he shows that he knows what ought to be done. He does
not get the money, but he saves his " face," and thus secures
himself from imposition in the future. A servant neglects or
refuses to perform some duty. Ascertaining that his master
intends to turn him off, he repeats his former offence, dismisses
himself, and saves his " face."

To save one's face and lose one's life would not seem to
us very attractive, but we have heard of a Chinese District
Magistrate who, as a special favour, was allowed to be be-
headed in his robes of office in order to save his face !



CHAPTER II.

ECONOMY.

THE word "economy" signifies the rule by which the house
should be ordered, especially with reference to the rela-
tion between expenditure and income. Economy, as we
understand the term, may be displayed in three several ways :
by limiting the number of wants, by preventing waste, and by
the adjustment of forces in such a manner as to make a little
represent a great deal. In each of these ways the Chinese
are pre-eminently economical.

One of the first things which impress the traveller in China
is the extremely simple diet of the people. The vast bulk of
the population seems to depend upon a few articles, such as
rice, beans in various preparations, millet, garden vegetables,
and fish. These, with a few other things, form the staple of
countless millions, supplemented it may be on the feast-days,
or other special occasions, with a bit of meat.

Now that so much attention is given in Western lands to
the contrivance of ways in which to furnish nourishing food
to the very poor, at a minimum cost, it is not without interest
to learn the undoubted fact that, in ordinary years, it is in
China quite possible to furnish wholesome food in abundant
quantity at a cost for each adult of not more than two cents a
day. Even in famine times, thousands of persons have been
kept alive for months on an allowance of not more than a
cent and a half a day. This implies the general existence in

19




20 CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS

China of a high degree of skill in the preparation of food.
Poor and coarse as their food often is, insipid and even re-
pulsive as it not infrequently seems to the foreigner, it is im-
possible not to recognise the fact that, in the cooking and
serving of what they have, the Chinese are past-masters of the
culinary art. In this particular, Mr. Wingrove Cooke ranked
them below the French, and above the English (and he might
have added the Americans). Whether they are really below
any one of these nationalities we are by no means so certain
as Mr. Cooke may have been, but their superiority to some
of them is beyond dispute. In the few simple articles which
we have mentioned, it is evident that even from the point of
view of the scientific physiologist, the Chinese have made a
wise choice of their staple foods. The thoroughness of their
mode of preparing food, and the great variety in which these
few constituents are constantly presented, are known to all
who have paid the least attention to Chinese cookery.

Another fact of extreme significance does not force itself
upon our notice, but can easily be verified. There is very
little waste in the preparation of Chinese food, and everything
is made to do as much duty as possible. What there is left
after an ordinary Chinese family have finished one of their
meals would represent but a fraction of the net cost of the
food. In illustration of this general fact, it is only necessary
to glance at the physical condition of the Chinese dog or cat.
On the leavings of human beings it is the unhappy function
of these animals to " live," and their lives are uniformly pro-
tracted at "a poor dying rate." The populations of new
countries are proverbially wasteful, and we have not the least
doubt that it would be possible to support sixty millions of
Asiatics in comparative luxury with the materials daily wasted
in a land like the United States, where a living is easily to
be had. But we should like to see how many human beings
could be fattened from what there is left after as many Chinese



ECONOMY 2 1

have " eaten to repletion," and the servants or children have
all had their turn at the remains! Even the tea left in the
cups is poured back into the teapot to be heated again.

It is a fact which cannot fail to force itself upon our notice



Online LibraryArthur Henderson SmithChinese characteristics → online text (page 1 of 26)
Using the text of ebook Chinese characteristics by Arthur Henderson Smith active link like:
read the ebook Chinese characteristics is obligatory.

Leave us your feedback | Links exchange | RSS feed 

Online library ebooksread.com © 2007-2014