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66 Fifth Avenue


_All rights reserved._

Copyright, 1902,

Set up and electrotyped October, 1902.

Norwood Press
J. S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith
Norwood Mass. U.S.A.


The following Lectures were delivered during March, 1902, at Columbia
University, in the city of New York, to inaugurate the foundation by
General Horace W. Carpentier of the Dean Lung Chair of Chinese.

By the express desire of the authorities of Columbia University these
Lectures are now printed, and they may serve to record an important and
interesting departure in Oriental studies.

It is not pretended that Chinese scholarship will be in any way advanced
by this publication. The Lectures, slight in themselves, were never
meant for advanced students, but rather to draw attention to, and
possibly arouse some interest in, a subject which will occupy a larger
space in the future than in the present or in the past.


Cambridge, England,
April 15, 1902.




Its Importance—Its Difficulty—The Colloquial—Dialects—"Mandarin"—Absence
of Grammar—Illustrations—Pidgin-English—Scarcity of Vocables—The
Tones—Coupled Words—The Written Language—The Indicators—Picture
Characters—Pictures of Ideas—The Phonetics—Some Faulty Analyses ... 3



The Cambridge (Eng.) Library—(A) The Confucian Canon—(B)
Dynastic History—The "Historical Record"—The "Mirror of
History"—Biography—Encyclopædias—How arranged—Collections
of Reprints—The Imperial Statutes—The Penal Code—(C)
Geography—Topography—An Old Volume—Account of Strange Nations—(D)
Poetry—Novels—Romance of the Three Kingdoms—Plays—(E) Dictionaries—The
Concordance—Its Arrangement—Imperial Catalogue—Senior Classics ... 37



The Emperor—Provincial Government—Circuits—Prefectures—Magistracies—
Headboroughs—The People—The Magistrate—Other Provincial Officials—The
Prefect—The Intendant of Circuit (_Tao-t'ai_)—Viceroy and
Governor—Taxation—Mencius on "the People"—Personal Liberty—New
Imposts—Combination—Illustrations ... 73



Relative Values of Chinese and Greek in Mental and Moral Training—Lord
Granville—Wên T'ien-hsiang—Han Yü—An Emperor—A Land of
Opposites—Coincidences between Chinese and Greek Civilisations—The
Question of Greek Influence—Greek Words in Chinese—Coincidences in
Chinese and Western Literature—Students of Chinese wanted ... 107



Religions in China—What is Tao?—Lao Tzŭ—The _Tao Tê Ching_—Its
Claims—The Philosophy of Lao Tzŭ—-Developed by Chuang Tzŭ—His View
of Tao—A Taoist Poet—Symptoms of Decay—The Elixir of Life—Alchemy—The
Black Art—Struggle between Buddhism and Taoism—They borrow from One
Another—The Corruption of Tao—Its Last State ... 141



Origin of the Queue—Social Life—An Eyeglass—Street Etiquette—Guest
and Host—The Position of Women—Infanticide—Training and Education of
Women—The Wife's Status—Ancestral Worship—Widows—Foot-binding—Henpecked
Husbands—The Chinaman a Mystery—Customs vary with Places—Dog's
Flesh—Substitutes at Executions—Doctors—Conclusion ... 175





If the Chinese people were to file one by one past a given point, the
interesting procession would never come to an end. Before the last man
of those living to-day had gone by, another and a new generation would
have grown up, and so on for ever and ever.

The importance, as a factor in the sum of human affairs, of this vast
nation,—of its language, of its literature, of its religions, of its
history, of its manners and customs,—goes therefore without saying. Yet
a serious attention to China and her affairs is of very recent growth.
Twenty-five years ago there was but one professor of Chinese in the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; and even that one spent his
time more in adorning his profession than in imparting his knowledge to
classes of eager students. Now there are all together five chairs of
Chinese, the occupants of which are all more or less actively employed.
But we are still sadly lacking in what Columbia University appears to
have obtained by the stroke of a generous pen,—adequate funds for
endowment. Meanwhile, I venture to offer my respectful congratulations
to Columbia University on having surmounted this initial difficulty, and
also to prophesy that the foresight of the liberal donor will be amply
justified before many years are over.

I have often been asked if Chinese is, or is not, a difficult language
to learn. To this question it is quite impossible to give a categorical
answer, for the simple reason that Chinese consists of at least two
languages, one colloquial and the other written, which for all practical
purposes are about as distinct as they well could be.

Colloquial Chinese is a comparatively easy matter. It is, in fact, more
easily acquired in the early stages than colloquial French or German. A
student will begin to speak from the very first, for the simple reason
that there is no other way. There are no Declensions or Conjugations
to be learned, and consequently no Paradigms or Irregular Verbs.

In a day or two the student should be able to say a few simple things.
After three months he should be able to deal with his ordinary
requirements; and after six months he should be able to chatter away
more or less accurately on a variety of interesting subjects. A great
deal depends upon the method by which he is taught.

The written or book language, on the other hand, may fairly be regarded
as a sufficient study for a lifetime; not because of the peculiar
script, which yields when systematically attacked, but because the style
of the book language is often so extremely terse as to make it obscure,
and sometimes so lavishly ornate that without wide reading it is not
easy to follow the figurative phraseology, and historical and
mythological allusions, which confront one on every page.

There are plenty of men, and some women, nowadays, who can carry on a
conversation in Chinese with the utmost facility, and even with grace.
Some speak so well as to be practically indistinguishable from Chinamen.

There are comparatively few men, and I venture to say still fewer, if
any, women, who can read an ordinary Chinese book with ease, or write an
ordinary Chinese letter at all.

Speaking of women as students of Chinese, there have been so far only
two who have really placed themselves in the front rank. It gives me
great pleasure to add that both these ladies, lady missionaries, were
natives of America, and that it was my privilege while in China to know
them both. In my early studies of Chinese I received much advice and
assistance from one of them, the late Miss Lydia Fay. Later on, I came
to entertain a high respect for the scholarship and literary attainments
of Miss Adèle M. Fielde, a well-known authoress.

Before starting upon a course of colloquial Chinese, it is necessary for
the student to consider in what part of China he proposes to put his
knowledge into practice. If he intends to settle or do business in
Peking, it is absolute waste of time for him to learn the dialect of
Shanghai. Theoretically, there is but one language spoken by the Chinese
people in China proper,—over an area of some two million square miles,
say twenty-five times the area of England and Scotland together.
Practically, there are about eight well-marked dialects, all clearly of
a common stock, but so distinct as to constitute eight different
languages, any two of which are quite as unlike as English and Dutch.

These dialects may be said to fringe the coast line of the Empire of
China. Starting from Canton and coasting northward, before we have left
behind us the province in which Canton is situated, Kuangtung, we reach
Swatow, where a totally new dialect is spoken. A short run now brings
us to Amoy, the dialect of which, though somewhat resembling that of
Swatow, is still very different in many respects. Our next stage is
Foochow, which is in the same province as Amoy, but possesses a special
dialect of its own. Then on to Wênchow, with another dialect, and so on
to Ningpo with yet another, widely spoken also in Shanghai, though the
latter place really has a _patois_ of its own.

Farther north to Chefoo, and thence to Peking, we come at last into the
range of the great dialect, popularly known as Mandarin, which sweeps
round behind the narrow strip of coast occupied by the various dialects
above mentioned, and dominates a hinterland constituting about
four-fifths of China proper. It is obvious, then, that for a person who
settles in a coast district, the dialect of that district must be his
chief care, while for the traveller and explorer Mandarin will probably
stand him in best stead.

The dialect of Peking is now regarded as standard "Mandarin"; but
previous to the year 1425 the capital was at Nanking, and the dialect of
Nanking was the Mandarin then in vogue. Consequently, Pekingese is the
language which all Chinese officials are now bound to speak.

Those who come from certain parts of the vast hinterland speak Mandarin
almost as a mother tongue, while those from the seaboard and certain
adjacent parts of the interior have nearly as much difficulty in
acquiring it, and quite as much difficulty in speaking it with a correct
accent, as the average foreigner.

The importance of Mandarin, the "official language" as the Chinese call
it, is beyond question. It is the vehicle of oral communication between
all Chinese officials, even in cases where they come from the same part
of the country and speak the same _patois_, between officials and their
servants, between judge and prisoner. Thus, in every court of justice
throughout the Empire the proceedings are carried on in Mandarin,
although none of the parties to the case may understand a single word.
The prosecutor, on his knees, tells his story in his native dialect.
This story is rendered into Mandarin by an official interpreter for the
benefit of the magistrate; the magistrate asks his questions or makes
his remarks in Mandarin, and these are translated into the local dialect
for the benefit of the litigants. Even if the magistrate knows the
dialect himself,—as is often the case, although no magistrate may hold
office in his own province,—still it is not strictly permissible for him
to make use of the local dialect for magisterial purposes.

It may be added that in all large centres, such as Canton, Foochow, and
Amoy, there will be found, among the well-to-do tradesmen and merchants,
many who can make themselves intelligible in something which
approximates to the dialect of Peking, not to mention that two out of
the above three cities are garrisoned by Manchu troops, who of course
speak that dialect as their native tongue.

Such is Mandarin. It may be compared to a limited extent with Urdu, the
camp language of India. It is obviously the form of colloquial which
should be studied by all, except those who have special interests in
special districts, in which case, of course, the _patois_ of the
locality comes to the front.

We will now suppose that the student has made up his mind to learn
Mandarin. The most natural thing for him, then, to do will be to look
around him for a grammar. He may have trouble in finding one. Such works
do actually exist, and they have been, for the most part, to quote a
familiar trade-mark, "made in Germany." They are certainly not made by
the Chinese, who do not possess, and never have possessed, in their
language, an equivalent term for grammar. The language is quite beyond
reach of the application of such rules as have been successfully deduced
from Latin and Greek.

The Chinese seem always to have spoken in monosyllables, and these
monosyllables seem always to have been incapable of inflection,
agglutination, or change of any kind. They are in reality root-ideas,
and are capable of adapting themselves to their surroundings, and of
playing each one such varied parts as noun, verb (transitive, neuter,
or even causal), adverb, and conjunction.

The word 我 _wo_, which for convenience' sake I call "I," must be
rendered into English by "me" whenever it is the object of some other
word, which, also for convenience' sake, I call a verb. It has further
such extended senses as "egoistic" and "subjective."

For example: 我爱他 _wo ai t'a_.

The first of these characters, which is really the root-idea of "self,"
stands here for the pronoun of the first person; the last, which is
really the root-idea of "not self," "other," stands for the pronoun of
the third person; and the middle character for the root-idea of "love."

This might mean in English, "I love him," or "I love her," or "I love
it,"—for there is no gender in Chinese, any more than there is any other
indication of grammatical susceptibilities. We can only decide if "him,"
"her," or "it" is intended by the context, or by the circumstances of
the case.

Now if we were to transpose what I must still call the pronouns,
although they are not pronouns except when we make them so, we should

他爱我 _t'a ai wo_

"he, she, _or_ it loves me," the only change which the Chinese words
have undergone being one of position; while in English, in addition to
the inflection of the pronouns, the "love" of the first person becomes
"loves" in the third person.

Again, supposing we wished to write down—

"People love him (or her),"

we should have—

人爱他 _jen ai t'a_,

in which once more the noticeable feature is that the middle character,
although passing from the singular to the plural number, suffers no
change of any kind whatever.

Further, the character for "man" is in the plural simply because such a
rendering is the only one which the genius of the Chinese language will
here tolerate, helped out by the fact that the word by itself does not
mean "_a_ man," but rather what we may call the root-idea of humanity.

Such terms as "a man," or "six men," or "some men," or "many men," would
be expressed each in its own particular way.

"All men," for instance, would involve merely the duplication of the
character _jen_:—

人人爱他 _jen jen ai t'a_.

It is the same with tenses in Chinese. They are not brought out by
inflection, but by the use of additional words.

来 _lai_ is the root-idea of "coming," and lends itself as follows to the
exigencies of conjugation:—

Standing alone, it is imperative:—

来 _Lai!_ = "come!" "here!"

我来 _wo lai_ = "I come, _or_ am coming."

他来 _t'a lai_ = "he comes, _or_ is coming."

And by inserting 不 _pu_, a root-idea of negation,—

他不来 _t'a pu lai_ = "he comes not, _or_ is not coming."

To express an interrogative, we say,—

他来不来 _t'a lai pu lai_ = "he come no come?" _i.e._ "is he coming?"

submitting the two alternatives for the person addressed to choose from
in reply.

The indefinite past tense is formed by adding the word 了 _liao_ or _lo_

他来了 _t'a lai lo_ = "he come finish," = "he has come."

This may be turned into the definite past tense by inserting some
indication of time; _e.g._

他早上来了 = "he came this morning."

Here we see that the same words may be indefinite or definite according
to circumstances.

It is perhaps more startling to find that the same words may be both
active and passive.

Thus, 丢 _tiu_ is the root-idea of "loss," "to lose," and 了 puts it into
the past tense.

Now 我丢了 means, and can only mean, "I have lost"—something understood,
or to be expressed. Strike out 我 and substitute 書 "a book." No Chinaman
would think that the new sentence meant "The book has lost"—something
understood, or to be expressed, as for instance its cover; but he would
grasp at once the real sense, "The book is or has been lost."

In the case of such, a phrase as "The book has lost" its cover, quite a
different word would be used for "lost."

We have the same phenomenon in English. In the _New York Times_ of
February 13, I read, "Mr. So-and-so dined," meaning not that Mr.
So-and-so took his dinner, but had been entertained at dinner by a party
of friends,—a neuter verb transformed into a passive verb by the logic
of circumstances.

By a like process the word 死 _ssŭ_ "to die" may also mean "to make to
die" = "to kill."

The word 金 _chin_ which stands for "gold" as a substantive may also
stand, as in English, for an adjective, and for a verb, "to gold,"
_i.e._ to regard as gold, to value highly.

There is nothing in Chinese like love, loving, lovely, as noun
substantive, verb, and adverb. The word, written or spoken, remains
invariably, so far as its own economy is concerned, the same. Its
function in a sentence is governed entirely by position and by the
influence of other words upon it, coupled with the inexorable logic
of attendant circumstances.

When a Chinaman comes up to you and says, "You wantchee my, no
wantchee," he is doing no foolish thing, at any rate from his own point
of view. To save himself the trouble of learning grammatical English, he
is taking the language and divesting it of all troublesome inflections,
until he has at his control a set of root-ideas, with which he can
juggle as in his own tongue. In other words, "you wantchee my, no
wantchee," is nothing more nor less than literally rendered Chinese:—

你要我不要 _ni yao wo, pu yao_ = do you want me or not?

In this "pidgin" English he can express himself as in Chinese by merely
changing the positions of the words:—

"He wantchee my." "My wantchee he."

"My belong Englishman."

"That knife belong my."

Some years back, when I was leaving China for England with young
children, their faithful Chinese nurse kept on repeating to the little
ones the following remarkable sentence, "My too muchey solly you go
steamah; you no solly my."

All this is very absurd, no doubt; still it is _bona fide_ Chinese,
and illustrates very forcibly how an intelligible language may be
constructed of root-ideas arranged in logical sequence.

If the last word had now been said in reference to colloquial, it would
be as easy for us to learn to speak Chinese as it is for a Chinaman to
learn to speak Pidgin-English. There is, however, a great obstacle still
in the way of the student. The Chinese language is peculiarly lacking
in vocables; that is to say, it possesses very few sounds for the
conveyance of speech. The dialect of Peking is restricted to four
hundred and twenty, and as every word in the language must fall under
one or other of those sounds, it follows that if there are 42,000 words
in the language (and the standard dictionary contains 44,000), there
is an average of 100 words to each sound. Of course, if any sound
had less than 100 words attached to it, some other sound would have
proportionately more. Thus, accepting the average, we should have 100
things or ideas, all expressed in speech, for instance, by the one
single sound _I_.

The confusion likely to arise from such conditions needs not to be
enlarged upon; it is at once obvious, and probably gave rise to the
following sapient remark by a globe-trotting author, which I took from
a newspaper in England:—

"In China, the letter _I_ has one hundred and forty-five different ways
of being pronounced, and each pronunciation has a different meaning."

It would be difficult to squeeze more misleading nonsense into a smaller
compass. Imagine the agonies of a Chinese infant school, struggling
with the letter _I_ pronounced in 145 different ways, with a different
meaning to each! It will suffice to say, what everybody here present
must know, that Chinese is not in any sense an alphabetic language, and
that consequently there can be no such thing as "the letter _I_."

When closely examined, this great difficulty of many words with but one
common sound melts rapidly away, until there is but a fairly small
residuum with which the student has to contend. The same difficulty
confronts us, to a slighter extent, even in English. If I say, "I met a
bore in Broadway," I may mean one of several things. I may mean a tidal
wave, which is at once put out of court by the logic of circumstances.
Or I may mean a wild animal, which also has circumstances against it.

To return to Chinese. In the first place, although there are no doubt
42,000 separate written characters in the Chinese language, about
one-tenth of that number, 4200, would more than suffice for the needs of
an average speaker. Adopting this scale, we have 420 sounds and 4200
words, or ten words to each sound,—still a sufficient hindrance to
anything like certain intelligibility of speech. But this is not the
whole case. The ten characters, for instance, under each sound, are
distributed over four separate groups, formed by certain modulations of
the voice, known as Tones, so that actually there would be only an
average of 2½ words liable to absolute confusion. Thus 烟 yen^1 means
"smoke"; 鹽 yen^2 means "salt"; 眼 yen^3 means "an eye"; and 雁 yen^4 means
"a goose."

These modulations are not readily distinguished at first; but the ear is
easily trained, and it soon becomes difficult to mistake them.

Nor is this all. The Chinese, although their language is monosyllabic,
do not make an extensive use of monosyllables in speech to express a
single thing or idea. They couple their words in pairs.

Thus, for "eye" they would say, not _yen_, which strictly means "hole,"
or "socket," but _yen ching_, the added word _ching_, which means
"eyeball," tying down the term to the application required, namely,

In like manner it is not customary to talk about _yen_, "salt," as we
do, but to restrict the term as required in each case by the addition of
some explanatory word; for instance, 白盐 "white salt," _i.e._ "table
salt"; 黑盐 "black salt," _i.e._ "coarse salt"; all of which tends very
much to prevent confusion with other words pronounced in the same tone.

There are also certain words used as suffixes, which help to separate
terms which might otherwise be confused. Thus 裹 _kuo_^3 means "to wrap,"
and 果 _kuo_^3 means "fruit," the two being identical in sound and tone.
And _yao kuo_ might mean either "I want fruit" or "I want to wrap." No
one, however, says _kuo_ for "fruit," but _kuo tzŭ_. The suffix _tzŭ_
renders confusion impossible.

Of course there is no confusion in reading a book, where each thing or
idea, although of the same sound and tone, is represented by a different

On the whole, it may be said that misconceptions in the colloquial are
not altogether due to the fact that the Chinese language is poorly
provided with sounds. Many persons, otherwise gifted, are quite unable
to learn any foreign tongue.

Let us now turn to the machinery by means of which the Chinese arrest
the winged words of speech, and give to mere thought and utterance a
more concrete and a more lasting form.

The written language has one advantage over the colloquial: it is
uniformly the same all over China; and the same document is equally
intelligible to natives of Peking and Canton, just as the Arabic and
Roman numerals are understood all over Europe, although pronounced
differently by various nations.

To this fact some have attributed the stability of the Chinese Empire
and the permanence of her political and social institutions.

If we take the written language of to-day, which is to all intents and

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Online LibraryHerbert Allen GilesChina and the Chinese → online text (page 1 of 11)