Edward Harper Parker.

China, her history, diplomacy, and commerce, from the earliest times to the present day online

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mensely improved since I penned my serio-comic
and somewhat contemptuous description of the
Chinese "Tommy" as he existed up to 1900;
at the same time, whilst totally withdrawing it
from this edition, I must remind readers that
even in 1900 I expressed the utmost confidence



270 THE ARMY [chap, xiii

in Tommy's "bottom" (as Dr. Johnson em-
barrassingly said in the presence of Miss Hannah
More), and declared that I myself would not
hesitate to lead Chinese soldiers (brought into
shape under my own supervision) against any
troops in existence; "for, Sir, they have a bottom
of good sense."

As to the Chinese navy, I think I was the first to
greet the future Captain Lang, R.N., when, with
the future Captain Ching, R.N. (two curiously
Chinese names !), he brought out the first mos-
quito gun-boats to Pagoda Anchorage in June
1877. I again met Admiral Lang at the same
place in May 1890 when, with Admiral Ting,
he was in joint command of a powerful Chinese
fleet.^ Meanwhile (once more on the same spot)
such fleet as the Chinese had between the above
two dates was destroyed by Admiral Courbet
in Septem.ber 1884. The navy at present is' —
and politically wisely- — as negligible a quantity
as ever, and there would be no practical object
in describing here the history of its failures.

^ For this humorous incident see John Chinaman (Murray, 1901).



CHAPTER XIV

PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS

It is only natural that, at a moment when all
Europe is watching the great issues involved in
the present struggles of the Chinese democracy
to carve out for itself a place in the sun of
civilisation and progress, special interest should
attach to the question of personal qualities.
Volumes have already been written on this
subject; but the Rev. Arthur Smith, in his
matchless volume Chinese Characteristics, has for
long been and still is universally regarded as
having best expressed those judgments which
most of us feel to be just, but few of us are gifted
with the art of clearly enunciating- — not to say
with the verve and insight of the inimitable
American author. I feel an unjustifiable pride in
recalling the fact that, when the first papers came
out anonymously about thirty years ago, I was re-
peatedly asked — dubiously — if I was the author ;
the sentiments being occasionally recognisable as
mine, the just doubts being whether I was capable
of writing anything so entertaining and readable.
I have not to this day read any of Mr. Smith's
appreciations, except the first few anonymous
ones, and I now therefore simply give, not his
judgment nor the judgment of mankind, but my
own individual opinion after a generation of total
residence in nearly all parts of China.

Of the Manchus, as distinguished from the

271



272 PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS [chap, xiv

Chinese, I can only speak touching those who
under the Empire used to inhabit Peking,
Canton, Foochow, Nanking, Hangchow, and
Chinkiang, and who seem to have since quietly
and inoffensively merged into the local popu-
lations. Except in the case of Peking, where
the Manchu and Chinese population was so
mixed as to be indistinguishable to any but the
most observant eye, the Manchus were all
" bannermen " ; that is, a privileged caste of
soldiers, having their families with them, living
in cantonments amongst a people speaking
(except in the case of Nanking and Chinkiang)
a totally different dialect. Their life was a
haughty and exclusive one, and what natural
characteristics they may have had were inevit-
ably coloured by the nature of their surround-
ings. Mixed marriages were not allowed until
after the " Boxer " settlement, when steps
began to be taken to assimilate the Manchus
to the Chinese in many ways. Of all these
Manchus I should say their chief characteristic
was a combination of laziness and pride ; but
wherever placed with foreigners in the relation
of pupil to teacher, as for instance in schools,
drill-grounds, laboratories, etc., their bearing, as
was natural with a ruling race, was distinctly
more dignified than that of Chinese. The speci-
mens of Manchu mandarins (always hailing from
Peking) I have met in the provinces have
invariably appeared to me to be more jovial,
easy-going, accommodating if not reasonable,
impulsive, and careless of consequences than
the Chinese : at the same time less capable of
business, less cautious about public opinion, more
ignorant and indiscreet. The princes at Peking
were of course haughty, and often a trifle sullen,
as became the degenerate descendants of fine
manly fellows like the earlier emperors ; for



A.D. 1870-1900] MANCHU CHARACTERISTICS 273

they felt themselves de jure entitled to all the
deep-felt respect their ancestors exacted, but de
Jacto impotent to obtain even a shabby imitation
of it; moreover the innumerable tsung-shih, or
(poor) relations of the blood were not under
the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts, until in
1907 their conduct became so offensive that Mixed
Courts "of a sort" were established to deal
with the anomaly. The Manchus, like nearly
all northerners, have a tendency to get drunk.
Here, again, they differ from the Chinese, but
are not so bad as the more simple Mongols.
Even at official interviews a Manchu mandarin
was occasionally flushed with liquor, in which
case he often adopted a braggart's airs. As to
bravery, I don't believe a Manchu is by nature
either more or less brave than a Chinaman. If it
is brave to commit suicide rather than to suffer
humiliation, then both are equally courageous. If
it is cowardly to run when you have no confidence
in the honesty or capacity of your officers, then
both are equally cowardly. But, generally, it
appears to me that true courage is often indis-
tinguishable from pinchbeck all the world over,
and depends very much upon local ideas of
" good form," and external circumstances and
surroundings of every kind; for instance the
French and the Belgians are showing the noblest
courage, whilst the Prussians are exhibiting the
basest cowardice, moral and other.

With the above qualifications, and also re-
serving the question of the purer Manchus in
Manchuria, of whom I know nothing, I should
say the Manchu is indistinguishable in character
from the Peking Chinaman, the Peking China-
man from the northern, the northern from the
central, and the central from the southern. In
other words, they all run into each other, just
as a Russian runs into a Pole, a Pole into an



274 PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS [chap, xiv

Austrian, and thence into a German, Dutch-
man, Englishman, and American. To put it in
another way, if you begin to distinguish at all,
you must first decide whether you are going to
split hairs or cleave mountains, for every single
Chinese village differs in character from the next
one adjoining. The broad lines of distinction
must be taken in another way, and in order to
get any real idea of how a Chinaman differs from
ourselves, we must therefore ignore petty details
both in ourselves and in them, and see if there
are any main features of an unmistakable kind.
Perhaps the easiest way to do this would be to
go about it the other way, and try to see our-
selves as others see us. The average Chinese
does not trouble himself to decide from our
complexion or our food whether we are Jews or
Christians ; from the vivacity or stupidity of our
manner, whether we are Latins or Teutons ;
from our readiness to fib or our smugness,
whether we are Russians or George Washingtons
in disguise. No ! in Empire days he lumped
us all together as " foreign devils " or " bar-
barians " from the West, who wore tight-fitting
clothes instead of baggy ones ; who had long
noses and deep-sunken eyes, mop-like hair instead
of a pigtail ; who ate ox-meat, cheese, and
other coarse things instead of rice and a scrap
of pork or fish' — and smelt strong accordingly ;
who often assumed a bullying attitude and
were prone to violence when misunderstandings
occurred ; who got drunk ; and so on, and so
on. Of course now the pigtail has gone by the
board, and mop-like hair is fashionable, as also
are many features in the foreign food, dress, and
(sad to say) want of good manners.

The general reader will soon get confused if he
is told that a Cantonese will scrupulously burn
his incense outside his front door at 7 p.m.,



DIFFICULTIES IN SPECIFICATION 276

whilst a Pekingese will see his own grandmother
anything but blessed before he will sacrifice to
her coffin. Examples of this sort might be
multiplied and diversified by thousands. The
man in the street does not particularly want to
know that the pigtail was only introduced 270
years ago, and was not Chinese at all, but
essentially a Manchu characteristic. All he
sees is that there is a vast tract of country as
big as Europe, inhabited by 400,000,000 of
yellow-skinned men and women with swarms
of half-naked children who are still apt to yell
out opprobrious epithets at Europeans. These
people squat on the ground as often as they sit
on chairs ; are totally indifferent about air and
smells ; shovel their food down with chopsticks ;
are always scratching their persons ; have
slobbery mouths and plenty of vermiin ; get
the best of every bargain ; seem to tell a lie
whenever they speak at all ; wear Jim Crow
suits of clothes when they abandon their native
costume ; are reputed to drown their babies ; still
smoke opium when they can get it ; are supposed
to practise the most bizarre immorality; never
wash; etc., etc. These, and other points like
them, exhibit the broad lines of imaginary
Chinese character, and it is for us now to see
how far they are true.

1. A Chinaman is universally considered to be
a liar. And so he is. But, after a few years of
initiation, I never found much difficulty in
extracting the truth from any Chinaman, whether
milkman or mandarin. Not only so,' — I always
felt great confidence in the truthfulness of my
own servants, though they often popped out
sundry lies. We have our own lies — divorce-
court lies, club lies, society lies, husband-and-
wife lies, and so on. The distinction is that we
lie with a different motive. A Chinaman gener-
20



276 PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS [chap, xiv

ally lies in order to get some petty pecuniary
advantage, to save trouble, to conceal neglect,
to avoid being impolite, or to spite an enemy.
We lie in order to keep up conventional ideas of
honour and virtue, to save our relations from
pain or disgrace, from a feeling of esprit de corps,
and so on. But we know the measure of our
own lies ; we instinctively apply the grain or
the bucket of salt where we feel it is required ;
the shock is broken ; we all do things and feel
things in the same way ; the motive is familiar.
But with the luckless Chinaman the conditions
presented to us are new and abrupt. He does
his lying in a different way altogether ; and so
we call him a liar. He calls us liars too, and
believes it ; if not in money matters, at all
events in " diplomacy." He is not so nice and
particular about the truth as we think we are :
and that is about the measure of my condemi-
nation. On the other hand, he is not nearly so
hypocritical ; but he objects to " losing face."

2. A Chinaman is thought to be a thief. The
" chit " system is universal in China, so that
pocket-money is unnecessary. I see this very
year (1916) that efforts are being made to cur-
tail the chit habit. A " chit " is a pencil scrawl
on a piece of paper, naming (in any form) a sum
of mioney, which is " collected " from the com-
pradore or, as Anglo-Indians say, the " butler "
once a month : it may be 10 cents for a drink,
or it may be for £25 lost at cards. I always
kept the safe locked, possessed no jewellery
I had not always on, and never locked up
anything but m.oney and important papers ;
particularly I never locked up wine or cigars.
During the whole course of my life in China
(with one notable exception, when a thief at
an inn walked off with me and my bed in
my sleep, deposited me in a handy spot, and



A.D. 1870-1895] THE MOTE AND THE BEAM 277

extracted a valuable fur coat from underneath
me), I was never robbed of anything. I have
several times been menaced with violence by
men who appeared to be thieves, but who
perhaps were policemen or " watchers " ; yet I
got oft by various devices, such as firing an old
pistol, or pointing a candlestick at the robbers ;
and I have missed silk handkerchiefs (as we miss
umbrellas in England) occasionally. I usually
had at least a dozen servants and retainers
wherever I was, and if any of them stole my
property I was never conscious of it. Of course
I took reasonable precautions, as everyone ought
to do ; if a person deposits tempting articles
in tempting places he must expect to lose them,
even in a country like Norway, where simple
honesty is (or was, forty years ago) carried to
naivete ; but I possessed few tempting articles,
no articles I did not need to use, and these were
always in their proper place, so that I did not
lose them; or, what is equally satisfactory to
a sensible man, was not aware of it. I well
remicmber once asking my permanent " boy "
how it was that so many of my forks had a stain.
He said it was done by various " coolies," or
under-servants, each of whomx in succession
invariably " tested " the electro on his own
account, merely as a business-like act. On
another occasion, when I wished to lock up the
same electro box, he said : " Not at all ; if you
lock it up, someone will mistake the contents
for silver, and carry the whole box away, or
break it open ; whereas, if you leave it open,
each thief will be able to ascertain for himself
that it is not worth stealing."

3. Chinamen are. always regarded as being
dirty. This I deny ; or, rather, I qualify. In
the warm parts of China a Chinaman, clothes
and all, is much less offensive to the senses (my



278 PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS [chap, xiv

senses) than an Englishman of the same class,
clothes and all. In the cold north, where fuel
is dear and scarce, the custom prevails in winter
of piling on clothes upon clothes, and rarely
changing them. In Mongolia I fell in partly
with local custom, and neither took off my
clothes nor washed any part of my person but
my hands and face for a whole month. No
vermin will at any time touch m^e, so my case
is perhaps special ; but I noticed everyone else
near me, Chinese and European, " grew vermin,"
to use the local term. Still, it was too cold to
take any garment off for long ; and so, instead
of undertaking ablutions, the others all em-
ployed their energies, at leisure momients, in the
same way that monkeys do, with a view to
retaining the exclusive use of their own skin for
themselves. In the south of China it is the
custom amongst the working classes to swab,
with a wet rag or dishcloth, as much of the body
as can be got at without taking the trousers off.
This, extended to all the body, is really all a
man requires in any part of the world, and in
any case it is more than our own " working
classes " habitually do. The Hakka Chinese,
in the extrem^e south, male and female, properly
wash the whole body every day of their lives.
But, apart from washing, the Chinese do not eat
such strong food as we do, and therefore, even
if they are " nasty " in their habits, they are
not exactly rank and dirty- — i.e. not ranker and
dirtier than we are ourselves. Their nastiness
is in form rather than fact ; for instance, my
servants used at a pinch to wipe my dishes with
their sleeve or coat-tail ; blow down the spout
of my tea-pot in their anxiety not to keep me
waiting for a drink ; themselves take a swig from
the spout ; draw the said coat-sleeve across their
noses; wipe their hands or faces after washing



A.D. 1870-1895] EACH MAN'S PECK OF DIRT 279

with a pair of trousers, a coat-tail, or maybe the
lining of a hat ; spend hours in hunting for body-
vermin (a favourite Chinese pastime) ; and so
on. But, for all that, I do not call them dirty
beyond the ordinary rancidity of poverty all
over the world. The saying : " The Japanese
wash their bodies, the Chinese wash their clothes"
is fairly true. Nations differ in the form of their
cleanliness. For instance, no matter to what
continental country you go, you will get more
liberal supplies of table-linen than you will in
any British steamer, hotel, or eating-house.
On the other hand, there is no country where
window-curtains look so clean and neat as in
England. I do not think there is any country
in the world where the " working classes " dress
so dirtily as in England ; nor is there any where
the homes are kept so neat by the same dirty
men's wives.

4. The Chinese are said to be ungrateful.
This I totally deny. The fidelity of Chinese
servants is really extraordinary, if they are
treated with even moderate sympathy and con-
sideration ; and this, whether it be a native or
a foreign master who is concerned. Nothing
makes a more powerful im.pression on the
Chinese mind than impartial justice. To them
it is a grand sight to see wages paid out with-
out deductions on the " scale," or nibblings of
any kind ; to see the master refusing presents
and bribes — which last, indeed, few persons dare
even offer ; to observe that he will not " run
up " a bill for compensation in cases of riot.
When they begin to get used to the cold mathe-
matical precision of the British mind, going
straight for its object without fear or favour,
they begin to feel that they are in the presence
of a weird, strange being of a superhuman kind.
But again, when they find that, in addition to



280 PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS [chap, xiv

this chilly justice, they are positively receiving
some tenderness or consideration, such as gra-
tuitous medical aid, free assistance in righting
a wrong, the present of a coffin to their mothers,
and such-like things indicative of disinterested-
ness, they positively overflow with feelings of
respectful gratitude. I have seen a pack of
cunning-looking Chinamen blubber like babies
in taking leave of their master, and the more
impassive he looked the more they blubbered.
It is this gratitude for kindness , that often
deceives missionaries into a belief that " faith "
has been aroused in the Celestial ixiind. Even
officials of the most rascally description show
great fidelity to a friend. On one occasion I
procured the dismissal of a tolerably high man-
darin for corruption ; but, feeling rather sorry
for the man, I sent him a gorgeous but useless
silver presentation epergne packed in a box I
had never even opened, and which was always
getting into my way. He also never opened it,
probably thinking I was playing him some dirty
farewell trick, or was inferentially sneering at his
misfortune ; but, some months afterAvards, when
he had got to his own province, I received from
him a letter, written in the best of good taste,
avoiding all allusion to public matters, and
sending me some little " literary " paintings of a
most artistic kind done by himself, evidently at
the cost of great labour. He had divined cor-
rectly that no other " presents " would be appre-
ciated, or even accepted. On yet another
occasion I asked a high official to put in writing
some facts touching a matter in which both he
and I had been deceived. He said, " X. has
certainly behaved badly ; but he was my friend
when he did it, as you are now ; and I would no
more tell you in writing that he did it than I
would tell him that you asked me to give infor-



A.D. 1870-1895] GOOD POINTS IN CHINAMEN 281

mation against him." In fact, there is a very
high standard of both gratitude and honour
amongst friends in China, in spite of treacheries
and rogueries. I cannot recall a case where any
Chinese friend has left me in the lurch or played
me a dirty trick ; and few of us can say the same
of our own colleagues and countrymen.

5. Chinese politeness is generally termed hollow.
Chinamen are not so effusive and formal as the
Japanese (old system), and on the other hand they
are much more ceremoniousthan even the French ;
of course the Republic has affected their out-
ward bearing. It is only given to the few in
any race of mankind to possess the instinctive
and inborn politeness which comes of kindness
taking its own natural form. For most of us
fixed formalities are necessary, just as the letter
of the Law is found indispensable, with or with-
out the rigid dogmas of religion, to restrain the
vast majority of persons who are not sufficiently
well-balanced by -gift or training to be compe-
tent to set up and adhere to their own standard
of right. In this sense, therefore, the Chinese
politeness is hollow; but it achieves its object,
and, being under the old Confucian ideals abso-
lutely fixed, it, like the rules of the confessional,
saves the trouble of thinking, and prevents men
from the gaucherie of external " sin " in form.
Chinese male simperings and our own " feline
amenities " are cast in much the same mould.
The stupid, gawky clownishness, or rudeness,
of the English rustic or factory hand is quite
unknown in China. There are no ^'s to leave
out, and no mian is ashamed either of his own
relations or of his friends. There is a natural
ease of manner amongst all degrees, which the
" classified " British mind cannot even conceive.
It is akin to the outspoken frankness and ready
wit of the French, which contrasts so painfully



282 PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS [chap, xiv

with our self-consciousness, starchy snobbish-
ness, and mauvaise honte. The Chinese are
(unhke the Japanese) much given to brawhng
and coarse language ; they are as badly off for
respectable adjectives as Tommy Atkins him-
self. In a word, they are not at heart so kindly
and sympathetic as we are, but they certainly
are more sprightly and polite, and they rarely
" take social liberties."

6. I think it must be conceded that the
Chinese are cruel. Nearly all domestic animals
are treated without any consideration whatever
• — not of an interested nature. If kindness or
tenderness is shown, a great parade is made
about it. Children are rarely checked in their
cruelty to mice, flies, and such creatures.
Buddhism has certainly had some mollifying
effect, even upon the Chinese heart ; for instance,
there are societies for " preserving life," and
dens or keeps for " letting animals go " in ; and
some people' — especially Mongols' — pay attention
to Buddha's precepts about not taking even
the smallest life, even to the extent of killing a
flea. But all that is a mere drop in the ocean
of cruelty, or rather callousness. Perhaps one
reason is that the standard of bodily comfort
is so low in China that the slightest divergence
from it in an unfavourable direction means
cruelty. If an ordinary Chinaman lives over a
sewer or a pig-sty, as I have often had to do in
Chinese inns ; if he feeds on coarse grain, wears
rags, sleeps on the dank floor, and possesses
only 5s. worth of property in the world, all
told ; how are you to make criminals object to
the rigours of prison life ? Yet it is a fact, in
spite of this specious way of putting it, that the
Chinese seem positively to gloat over misery.
Where is there a country in the world where
you will see, as you might have seen in Shanghai



A.D. 1870-1916] CRUELTY ALMOST PRUSSIAN 283

twenty years ago, prisoners, surrounded by a
jeering crowd, starving to death in the sun and
rain, suspended by the neck for days and nights
so that the toe-tips just touch the floor ? Where
was there ever a country (except perhaps Bok-
hara) where maggots were positively bred up
to bore into the wounds of chained prisoners ?
Tlie callous way in which beggars are left to
die in the public streets ; the brutal treatment
of foreigners when at the mercy of a mob ; the
contemptuous ignoring of drowning men ; the
lingering executions ; the swarms of lepers left
to rot on the roads ; the tyranny of gaolers ;• —
all these and many other things go to show that
the Chinese are undoubtedly as low down as the
Prussians in the scale of downright cruelty. It is
but right to add, however, that a great many
official cruelties were denounced a dozen years
ago by the humane viceroy Liu K'un-yih and
others, and some very drastic changes have
since been made.

7. As to mercantile honour, in spite of occa-
sional lapses, such as occur in all countries, it is
so universally admitted that Chinese credit
stands deservedly high, that I need not say
another word about it, except that unhappily
it has quite recently somewhat degenerated



Online LibraryEdward Harper ParkerChina, her history, diplomacy, and commerce, from the earliest times to the present day → online text (page 23 of 35)