Edward Harper Parker.

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

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dialects, really very hard to learn correctly,
unless you study it in a place where everybody
speaks in the same way ; for in China, except
in one's own place, no one does speak the same
way ; and in Peking, where officials from every
city and village in China do congregate, no one
but a born native speaks absolutely *' right."
It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that amongst
a group of native officials forming a government
committee of any mixed-interests kind, no one
can be guaranteed clear in his expositions unless
he " yells at " you, and you at him, occasionally ;
or unless he indulges in pi-Van ( = pencil chat),
i.e. jotting down, or merely indicating by flour-
ishes of his forefinger, the written character
intended to express the particular sound he is
*' mouthing," for the special benefit of his col-
league's provincial ear. In Manchu times it
was execrably bad form to misunderstand what
the Emperor — and still more the peppery old
Dowager — was talking about ; and as the racy


brogue of Peking is precisely the same in a mule-
cabman's mouth and in the mouth of the " all-
highest," most local men admitted to audience
were glad to slur over the formal conversation
prescribed and shuffle out as quickly as possible
from the imperial presence : some viceroys were
so incapable of disguising their broad " Doric "
that they received a pretty broad hint to give as
much of their room and as little of their company
at the metropolis as rigid rule admitted of.

The moral of all this is that a beginner must
choose a dialect and stick to it. The reason is
this : as will shortly be shown, all dialects are
regular ; that is to say, no matter how unlike
they may be, the changes in pronunciation follow
definite fixed rules : hence instinct teaches
every native to make mental allowances for
speakers of other dialects, and it is obvious that
these mental allowances are more easily made
when the speaker is "in order " than when he
speaks imperfectly. For instance, when a Scots-
man says sair taes for " sore toes," or when an
Irishman talks about Tay Pay O'Connor drink-
ing a cup of tay at the say side, even the dullest
English yokel soon learns instinctively that
certain classes of o and i (or ee) are changed to
ei (or ay) in a Scotchman's or Irishman's mouth
respectively ; but if Scotch changes were irregu-
larly mixed with Irish changes, neither the
Scotsman nor the Irisliman would be so well
understood by the yokel in question.

Another point. All the Chinese dialects, and
all the " tonic " languages akin to Chinese
(Annamese, Miao, Yao, Lolo, Shan, etc.) are
monosyllabic, i.e. no matter what single word,
whether noun, verb, adjective, conjunction, or
what not, that word is enunciated in one syllable ;
the only apparent qualification of this statement
being that the vowel of many such syllables is


often what may be called an " inverted diph-
thong " ; thus chiang and chang, chiu and chu,
though monosyllables, contain vowels of different
degrees of purity or simplicity ; like the word
" gardener," by a few old-fashioned people still
pronounced " gyardner," or like the faint differ-
ence between the vowels in chew and choose
made by some clear speakers. But, after all,
this monosyllabic theory of the Chinese lan-
guages must not be overweighted. All lan-
guages, even the most sesquipedalian, are mono-
syllabic, in the sense that all polysyllables must
consist of single syllables ; and all inflections,
agglutinative particles, and so on, are either pure
unmodified monosyllables with a definite mean-
ing, or impure monosyllables the original mean-
ing of which it is difficult to trace back. Inde-
pendence and Unabhdngigkeit are both exactly
the same word : if, like the Chinese, we had
always kept our European syllables separate
and uncorrupted, we should have been equally
comprehensible if we had said " Not from hang
like way," or, as we still say, " not hang on to
others," or " to one's mother's apron strings."
The important difference is that the Chinese in
all their parts of speech, whether primary or
auxiliary in meaning, have only had their own
single language to deal with, whereas we in
England have borrowed from so many sources
that most of us are ignorant of what our own
monosyllables mean. German occupies a mid-
way position between English and Chinese : it
may be said aphoristically, " Every Chinaman
knows analytically exactly what he is saying ;
every German knows pretty well what he is
saying ; few Englishmen have any exact analyti-
cal idea of what they say." What with Greek,
Latin, and other borrowings, we in England have
frequently lost all trace of our component parts.

A.D. 1900] WHAT IS GRAMMAR ? 355

Every one talks of " insufficient circumstances,"
and knows generally what this means, but how
many people can split these words up and define
why each syllable has its partial or contributes
to the total effect ? This instinctive wholesome
feeling every Chinese has, no matter what dialect
he speaks, and thus there are no Mrs. Malaprops
in China, and no hawkers of " haspidesterers " or
" enuncrancies " for the " drorin' " room flower-
pots. The Dowager-Empress could enjoy her
street chaff, on precisely equal dialectic terms,
with any old peasant crony who brought her
a bowl of rice to the countryside ; and it is
recorded that she did.

There is no grammar in Chinese : this is the
next point to be examined. How many of us
can explain the word " grammar " which we
use so confidently : gramma means " a word "
or " a written sign," and " grammar" by exten-
sion " the study of forms of speech " ; but the
idea conveyed to the popular mind is a vague
collection of half-understood terms, such as
nouns, verbs, adjectives, tenses, cases, moods,
and so on. Every Chinese word, written or
spoken, is absolutely unchangeable ; it cannot
be inflected, agglutinated, or " parsed " in any
way. Which of us can explain the word
" parse " ? The mere utterance of the word is
all the parsing, partitioning, or defining a Chinese
requires, just as we have shown that the most
ancient written signs were " names," and there
was an end of it. The Chinese word for a
written gramma (ideograph) is no longer ming
or " name," but a word only 2,000 years old
as used in that sense called tsz, and a " not-
recognize-i52 " means " an ignoramus." Wen-li
(grammar) means the " orderly arrangement" of
tsz, and an official statement by the Board of
Education roundly asserted quite recently that



less than 1 per cent, of the whole Chinese race
(seven per mille) were acquainted with literature.
As a matter of fact, a much larger proportion of
male Chinese have for many centuries had a
casual acquaintance with the tsz sufficient to
carry them through their daily business, women
in most parts having been, until a few years ago,
entirely ignorant; but this slender male know-
ledge was before the introduction of newspapers
and advertising a generation ago : now both sexes
are rapidly advancing, and the dullest minds are
stimulated by curiosity as to what is going on in
the outer world. But all Chinese, illiterate or
learned, have as much grammar as we have ;
that is to say, they arrange the order of their
words by hereditary instinct and daily practice
in such a way that they extract the same effec-
tive results as though they had all our moods,
tenses, declensions, and cases. The main differ-
ence between vulgar speech and literary elegance
is that the latter aims at eschewing tautology,
repetitions, expletives, coarseness, and vague-
ness ; the style tends to the telegraphic in its
economy. The most learned Chinese literatus
cannot in the least explain how he arrives at
"style"; yet the official, historical, narrative,
and other styles are all recognised and mentally
fixed, subject of course to the qualification that
real masters of style attract special attention,
as with ourselves : official dispatch writers form
a sort of semi-secret guild.

The fact that Chinese written characters or
hieroglyphs are final and unchangeable cannot
possibly have anything to do with the fact that
the spoken language is (as above qualified) mono-
syllabic and uninflected, for men spoke and
formed their language for the current purposes
of life long before they ever thought of even
elementary writing ; moreover, even within

B.C. 200C-A.D. 1900] WHAT'S IN A NAME ? 857

historical memory, Chinese writing was so
laborious and clumsy an art, writing materials
were so expensive and unwieldy, that only an
infinitesimal number of scholars in a very few
capital cities could have had the independent
means to study critically. In the same way it must
be remembered that Chinamen spoke long before
the idea of "grammar" was conceived in other
lands ; the peculiarity of Chinese is that the
people, literate or illiterate, have continued to
speak as they have always spoken, without the
faintest idea of " good grammar " or " bad
grammar " having entered a single mind, and
this over a period of some 4,000 years. Speech has
no formal recognition at all, except as an ordinary
function of life, like toddling, walking, suckling,
weaning, eating, belching, or drinking. A school-
master may chide a boy for rude acts and ex-
pressions, just as Don Quixote warned Sancho
about erutar and regoldar ; but he never dreams
of correcting his " grammar " ; nor are there any
books on grammar. With us the omission or
insertion of an /?, a "you was^' instead of werCf
" kep " instead of " kept," srimp instead of
shrimp, may affect a young man's whole career
in life, because, in addition to a more or less
artificial grammar, we have evolved a more or
less " caste " pronunciation, which is not that
of the pi'ojanum vulgus. But plants grew before
botany was invented, with its artificial classifi-
cations and impossible Greek or Latin words,
invented to split up leaves, anthers, and other
component parts into innumerable imaginary
departments, futile to all but specialists ; and
plants will continue to grow in omne aevum,
subject only to the fcAv insignificant graftings
or unnatural modifications that science may
occasionally supply. So language grew through
untold generations of gradual development before


grammar was invented to harness it to the
restraint of fancy rules. Even in Europe,
dialects still run wild, and " correct " speech is
only ancillary to local brogues, whereas in China
no one has ever dreamt of regulating mere
speech, however finically rules for poetry and
essay- writing may have developed. Every
Chinese official speaks or tries to speak " man-
darin " of some kind ; not necessarily Pekingese
(the fashionable language for the last thousand
years, and, it seemiS, still the only one in which
really good colloquial novels are published),
but some form of that vast series of correlated
brogues current over the whole of China, Man-
churia, and (if Chinese be spoken at all) Mon-
golia, Corea, and Tibet, which pass by that
unsatisfactory generic name. But no Cantonese
or coast-Chinese of any kind holding an official
position under the Manchu dynasty would
ever speak his native "non-mandarin" brogue
officially in public ; interpreters were always
used in courts of law, and it was no uncommon
sight to witness, say, a Cantonese judge, who
himself spoke imperfect "mandarin," having
the evidence of a Cantonese prisoner (which
he meanwhile understood perfectly) interpreted
to him in another form of "mandarin" equally
imperfect. This, of course, is only an ex-
aggerated or extreme form of the general fact
already stated — ^that mere speech is a private
and personal affair not to be seriously taken ;
whilst litera scripta manet, whatever dialect be
used ; for composition in no matter what
form, legal, official, narrative, essay, poetical,
historical, or what not, is always resolvable
into perfectly regular local elements, though
six men may (as they do) pronounce one iden-
tical written word as chi, cup, cake, kip, dji,
kih, and so on.


It may strike Europeans as singular that the
total number of syllables for 40,000 written
characters ranges between 350 to 800. But this
seemingly alarming statement is subject to
qualifications which reduce it to comparative
impotence. In the first place 12,000 characters
easily embrace the whole gamut of reasonable
literature, and probably of the three or four
million men in China officially dubbed " literate,"
not one million can be depended on to pronounce
clearly upon more than 8,000 or 9,000. Three-
fourths of the characters are waste ; duplicates
or " cranks " of this or that kind. A good
average knowledge, sufficient for supervising
correspondence, reading proclamations (not too
exactly), glancing over the newspapers and
official gazettes, dealing with commercial docu-
ments, etc., would be 4,000 or 5,000. Hence it
follows that no character beyond this last
number can possibly have a local pronunciation
that can be depended upon ; that is to say, if a
person, Chinese or other, does not know it from
personal experience, he must accept the native
dictionary pronunciation; and this itself is
imperfect, because the native dictionaries, in
arranging their initials and finals, have only
been able (1) to go back to ancient dicta, or (2)
to accept the personal pronouncements of indi-
viduals (who may be provincials) in court
circles. To put it in another way, the ordinary
business Chinese of standing only makes use
during life of 4,000 or 5,000 words in the whole
of his conversation and business, and can only
fit that conversation with the same number of
signs. Hence the European student need not
burden his memory with more (unless he wish
to be a specialist) ; and if he stumble across
either strange words or strange characters he
must look them up ; after which done, he is as


good an authority as the average Chinese, who
must do the same thing.

As to the number of syllables in a monosylla-
bic language not exceeding 350 — indeed the
Hankow dialect has only 320 — it is doubtful
if even in polysyllabic English our separate
monosyllables would reach 1,000. The whole
Japanese language from first to last, including
Chinese importations, is expressed by fifty
separate monosyllables ; but then that language
is highly polysyllabic, and there are many clip-
pings, prolongations, and " thickenings " — such
as in Welsh d for t (Llandudno and St. Tudno) —
to help it out. In China the same helping out
effect is partly gained by tones, which practi-
cally double, treble, or even quadruple the
distinctions, according to refinement of dialect :
yet, with all that, one of the real difficulties of
Chinese — especially the " mandarin " dialects —
to foreign students, even those with a good ear
for tones, is, it must be confessed, the want oi
variety in word-sounds, which difficulty is of
course accentuated in the case of persons — and
they are many — who cannot for the life of them
" get into " the tones at all. The reason why
some dialects have only 400 whilst others have
800 sounds is that either initials or finals or
both have been merged in the cases of the
"mandarin" group — i.e. in the current corre-
lated brogues of nine-tenths of interior China —
whilst they have been preserved' — sometimes
most carefully' — in the ignored dialects of the
coast. It is easily provable, from close examina-
tion of the present form of Corean, Japanese,
and Annamese words taken over from Chinese
(from A.D. 1 till, say, a.d. 1300), that the
Cantonese dialect, which is far and a long way
the highest in develojDment, corresponds most
closely with the theoretical or dictionary form of

A.D. 1917] A "TIP" FOR STUDENTS 361

ancient times, still rigidly adhered to for poetical
purposes, though no Chinaman can explain
why. This is the more remarkable in that the
Cantonese people are not of pure " Old China "
stock; and the explanation probably is that, as
the Tartars gradually possessed themselves of
North China (as expounded in the chapter on
history), the pure Chinese colonised the south
in huge numbers by way of the lakes, and took
their speech with them. On the other hand
the now existing " mandarin " dialects of Old
China, West China, and the foreign provinces
above enumerated, evidently represent corrupt
forms as debased by successive inroads by Tartar
rulers, who (just as the Coreans and Japanese
have done with adopted Chinese words) would
tend to make a clean sweep of tones, surds,
sonants, aspirates, and other refinements strange
to their own guttural and agglutinative speech.
The case of the Cantonese is well illustrated
by a parallel with Quebec (and French Canada
generally) ; there sixteenth or seventeenth-cen-
tury French is spoken, which I personally found
barely intelligible. The case of "mandarin" is
well illustrated by a parallel with France itself,
where Northmen have played such havoc with
Latin that a debased but fashionable " man-
darin " form has thrust the purer Spanish, Portu-
guese, Italian, Romance, and Rumanian into the
political background. To illustrate the extent of
" mandarin " corruption : what ought to be ki, tsi,
kik, kip, kit, tsik, tsip, tsit, are all debased into one
uniform " mandarin " form chi ; thus a Cantonese
— who, moreover, subdivides his four theoretical
tones into about twenty colloquial tones — has
eight chances at guessing right against one
" mandarin" chance in this particular instance;
in fact, he has 8 x 5, or forty chances.

The whole question of comparative tones.


aspirates, sonants, surds, etc., is, however, one
that no casual student can be expected to
tolerate for a moment. Sanskrit purists in the
shape of Buddhist priests first explained it to
the Chinese, or tried to do so. A final piece of
practical advice may, however, perhaps here be
hazarded :■ — If you want to learn Chinese, no
matter what dialect, get a native who does not
understand a word of any foreign language, and
is guaranteed to be a safe moderate scholar,
speaking his own dialect only. Do not bother
yourself with grammar, but start off by pointing
to something, gradually working your way up
to such words as " give," " me," the numerals,
the negatives, the way to say "is " and " has "
(practically the sole real "verb" or verbs in
existence). Make the man read ; follow his
sounds, take notes, keep him in good humour
by letting him smoke and drink tea ; and, having
thus got the thin end of the wedge in, go ahead
in the way most agreeable to yourself, repeating
all doubtful points the next lesson, and going
on repeating day by day till you are clear.
With regard to reading and writing, take notes
of the sounds as they seem to you, and postpone
dictionary work, or comparison with other men's
views, till you feel you are on your own solid
ground. Do not trouble to learn the radicals
{i.e. the 214 conventional, m.ostly obsolete, char-
acters used in forming parts of hieroglyphs),
but get a Chinese brush, Chinese ink, and Chinese
slab ; watch how the teacher rubs the ink, holds
the brush, and in what order of strokes he writes
each word. Imitate him, always keeping up
Chinese conversation withal. The main rule
is this : (1) No word should be allowed to pass
for an instant unless you can utter its tone and
sound, (2) recognise it on paper, and (3) write it
as the teacher writes it.


The above remarks chiefly concern Pekingese,
the " mandarin " dialect most usually studied,
not only because it is the fashionable court
brogue, but because it is (or was until quite
recently) the only one provided with adequate
machinery in the way of handbooks, etc., for
foreigners : etymologically it is a decidedly cor-
rupted dialect. It may in a general way be
said that no one except missionaries ever seri-
ously engages a purely local dialect : of course
there are very occasional exceptions, and Can-
tonese is not rarely taken up by officials and
other non-missionaries on account of the practical
needs of Hong Kong ; and there are excellent
Canton dictionaries, besides handbooks. The
dialects of Amoy and Ningpo seem to be picked
up by local smatterers^ — apart from missionaries
• — with unusual facility, perhaps because both
are " unlit erary," and full of local locutions
which cannot be written with recognised standard
tsz; both are provided with good dictionaries.
Such strange "abortions" as the dialects of
Foochow and Wenchow are never studied ex-
cept under force majeure; yet both have been
thoroughly dissected and explained in published

Few practical students who may take up
Chinese, whether Pekingese, " southern man-
darin," " western mandarin," or any of the
coast dialects, will care or have time for com-
parative or etymological studies. If they
should wander into these pleasant pastures,
they will find that China follows out nearly all
the " laws " of change we are accustomed to in
Europe ; such, for instance, as the passage from
surd to aspirate, from sonant to aspirated surd,
from one class of nasal to another, from faint
nasal to pure consonant, from o to ue (as in
Spanish), from partial omission of final conson-


ants to entire omission with occasional re-
suscitation (as in French), etc. In short, there
is scarcely any bizarre change to be found in
Europe that cannot be closely paralleled in
Chinese ; even the pure Welsh II is extensively
found in one of the Cantonese group, where it
takes the place of s. Through all this maze it
is comparatively easy to grope one's way for
practical purposes if the student masters and
adheres to one definite dialect, never passing to
a second unless he feels that he can do so with-
out wrecking the first ; for even Chinese them-
selves can very rarely speak two dialects with
sufficient purity in each case to pass muster to a
native speaker as a native speaker of either ; and
it may be here repeated that speech in China
takes quite a back seat, and (except between
natives of the same tract) it is scarcely an ex-
aggeration to say that no two men talk alike : one
might even go farther, and say that few persons
quite understand a complicated conversation
without calling for repetitions and explanations;
these, indeed, form the salt that gives zest to an
interchange of ideas, just as with us the broad
racy talk of a native of Perth entertains and
amuses the educated Englishman, and vice versa.



A RUSH of very detailed books upon this subject
burst upon the world four or five years ago, but
the present account reviews the whole question
in condensed proportions, under the light of
official Chinese documents published from day
to day, and from the standpoint of one who was
actually present as events progressed in most of
the countries concerned. The " Awakening of
China" began when Turkestan was reconquered,
and the Marquess Tseng (who subsequently
wrote a paper thus entitled) succeeded in negotia-
ting a favourable treaty with Russia. At the
same time Li Hung-chang, then Viceroy at
Tientsin, managing also external relations gener-
ally, thought it good policy to encourage treaties
between foreign powers and Corea so as to
thwart designs upon that vassal state's virtual

Meanwhile French activity in Indo-China
(1884) led up to the loss of China's first war
fleet and of Tonquin, whilst the Pendjeh in-
cident in Affghanistan had the indirect effect
of causing a strained situation in connection
with the British occupation of Port Hamilton
off Corea. The death of Sir Harry Parkes at
this juncture (1885) deprived us of our one
"push and go" man who understood the situa-
tion. China made efforts to create a new navy



and fortify Port Arthur, Wei-hai Wei, etc., an
operation which was by way of placing Great
Britain in an unusually sympathetic relation-
ship with her had not our occupation of Upper
Burma in 1886 stimulated the Marquess Tseng
from his London post of observation to attempt
with us at Bhamo a repetition of his successes
with Russia touching the Hi domain. The
question of Indian trade with Tibet subsequently
complicated the Burma frontier discussion, which

Online LibraryEdward Harper ParkerChina, her history, diplomacy, and commerce, from the earliest times to the present day → online text (page 29 of 35)