d. 1894 Terrien de Lacouperie.

The children of China. Written for the children of England online

. (page 7 of 18)
Online Libraryd. 1894 Terrien de LacouperieThe children of China. Written for the children of England → online text (page 7 of 18)
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not. 23 come to. 24, 25 destruction. 26 certainly. 27 obtain.
28 eternal. 29 life.

The first word, ], means the top sign at the right hand,
2 the sign under 1, and so on; when you get to the bottom of
one row, begin again at the top of the next.

In reading, the Chinese do the opposite to what we do, for
they begin at what we should call the end of the book, and read
from the top of the page to the bottom, instead of across the


page, and from right to left instead of from left to right. The
name of the book and the number of the page are written down
the right-hand side of the book in a margin, and what we should
call foot-notes are at the top of the page instead of the bottom.

The Chinese think a great deal of their language ; they will
never allow even a little bit of it to be thrown away, and thiuk
it is very barbarous of us to destroy so much paper that has
writing or printing on it ; they suppose the reason we do it is,
that our language is so poor, we do not mind how it is treated.

Every scholar in China keeps a paper-basket, in which he
puts every bit of paper, however small, that has any writing on
it, and which he does not want to keep.

From time to time a crier goes round, calling out as he
goes — " Eevere and spare printed paper." Whenever his cry is
heard, the basket is taken to the door and emptied into the
collector's basket, which is a very large one. When this basket
is full, all the paper in it is burnt in a fireplace which is used
for nothing else, and which is often built in one of the courts
of a temple. Very strict scholars will not even let the ashes
of their paper be thrown away, but will have them taken to a
stream and put into it.

If you were to go to one of the large seaports in China, where
there are many English merchants and traders, you would hear
some people speaking a language that would puzzle you very
much, because you would understand a little of it but not all ;
some of the words are English and some not, and the English
words you would think are used in a very strange way. This
strange language is called " Pigeon English," and is used by
Chinamen who are too busy or too lazy to learn English, and by
Englishmen who are too lazy or too busy to learn Chinese, so, as
you would expect, the language is partly one and partly the other ;
there is a little Portuguese mixed with it too. There are only
a few hundred words in it, so one word has to do instead of a


great many. Yon will understand how funny it is if I give you
a little bit of it. Here is an English poem, which has been
translated into Pigeon English. In English it begins like this —

" My uame is Norval ; on the Grrampian Hills my father feeds his flock ;
A frugal swain, whose constant care is to increase his store ; "

and the translation of these two lines is —

" My name h'long Norval ; top-side Keh-lam-pian Hill, my fader chow-chow he sheep :
My fader very small heartee man, too much likee dat piecie dolla.'"

It would make you laugli to hear people talk like that, wouldn't
it ? Some of the words in this language are so changed that
they mean something quite different from what they meant at first.
For instance. Pigeon English means business English, because
it is the language in which the merchants of different nations
do their business with each other ; but when the Chinese tried
to say business they found they could not pronounce it right, and
" pigeon " was the nearest they could get to it ; not much like it,
is it ?

In some parts of China, where the people are ver}'' ignorant,
the missionaries have printed books for them in English letters,
spelling the words as nearly as possible as the}^ are pronounced ;
the children in the mission schools and the poor ^^eople who have
not much time, manage to learn to read this, though they cannot
learn to read their own written language.



OR tliey are veiy learned, only in quite a different way
from the people of other nations. Almost all the men
know how to read and write more or less, but you will
understand that a great many can only read some words
and that very few can read all, and this will explain to
you why some books say that nearly all the Chinese can
read, and others sa.j this is not the case. The truth is that nearly
all Chinese can read something, but nothing like all of them can
read everything.

One reason why the Chinese are so particular about everyone
learning to read is, that they say a man cannot be punished for
not doing what he does not know he ought to do, and that the
only way to know what is right is, to read good books, written by
good men ; so there are schools in all towns, and rich people have
tutors for their sons. There are a great many Cliinese books too,
histories and geographies, novels and poems, and lives of clever
or good men and women.

In China nobody is thought much of because he is rich, but
everj^one is thought a great deal of if he is learned, and every boy
means to be a learned man, for he knows he shall never get on if
he is not. If a man has learned sons, he is greatly respected, but
if his sons are ignorant he is despised by everyone. Paper, ink-
slabs, ink and brushes are called "The Four Precious Things;"
brushes are used instead of pens, for the Chinese use wliat we



call Indian ink ; we use it like paint, and so do they, for tliey rub
their ink on a little piece of slate and then put it on the paper
with a little brush made of rabbit's hair.

I have read a story of one little boy, who wanted very
much to become a learned man, but he was so poor he could not
afford a candle, and the evening was the only time he could study ;
but he found out that in the house next to his there were
always candles in the evening, and that a little light came into


his room tlirough a chink in the wall ; so lie used to stand
close by this chink and read and learn.

Another boy who was in the same difficulty managed to
catch a fire-fly and shut it up in a bottle, and by this light he
used to study.

Then there was a third who had a trouble of another kind ; he
always fell asleep when he was learning his lessons, so to keep
himself awake, he used to tie his pig-tail to a beam in his room,
so that if he nodded he might get a good pull, which would wake


liim. If only you took as much trouble to learu, what clever boys
and ghis 3'ou might be ; and the more learning we have, if it is
learning of the right kind, the more we can do for God, for the pro-
verb is a true one, " Knowledge is powder." But the knowledge
that gives the most power, and the best kind of power too,
is the knowledge of God, so whatever else you may be able to
learn or not learn, ask- God to teach 3'ou to know Himself, and the
better you know Him the more you will be able to do for

You will understand better about the learning of the Chinese,
if I tell you about their examinations, which are all for men, not
for women. A few w^omen in some places know how to read, but
that is all. Chinese examinations first began to be held in a.d.
COO, that is long before there were anj^ examinations or even any
schools in England.

There are four great examinations in China, perhaps the
most wonderful ever known anywhere. It does not matter how
rich a man may be, he can only get rank and honour by passing
these examinations ; while, however poor he may be, no one can
hinder him fi'om passing his examinations, and becoming a great
man, if only he can learn enough. The only people who are
not allowed to go in for these examinations are play-actors,
executioners, and jailers ; thirty mandarins were once turned out
of their posts because they let a play-actor try to pass an

The first great examination is held in every city once a year,
and everyone who wants to try to pass it, has to fill np a
paper, giving his own name, the names of his father and grand-
father and principal teacher, of his next door neighbours on
both sides, his own aje, his height, and his complexion.

When he goes iuto the room where he is to be examined,
he is only allowed to take with him his paper, ink,^brush, and as
much food as he will eat before the examination is over. After he


has gone into the room where all the other students are, his
examination paper is given him — not questions to be answered,
hut subjects to be written upon. He will have to write two
essays in prose and one poem ; what about, do you think ? Not
Grammar, Geography, History, French, Greek, Latin, or any
other language, but on little pieces taken from " The Four
Books," as they are called, which contain a great many wise
sayings, either written or collected by a man named Confucius,
whom the Chinese think more of than they do of anyone
else, so I shall have to tell you all about him in another

The students may take as long as they like to write these
papers, except that they must finish them in a day, and each one
must write his name in a corner of his papers, and then fold the
corner over and paste it down, so that the name shall be hidden;
it may not be uncovered until his papers have been examined, and
it has been decided whether he has passed the examination or
not. This is done to prevent any favour being shown, in case
the examiners have any friends among the students, whom
they might allow to pass, although their papers were not good

Even if a man does his papers very well indeed, he has not
finished yet, but must have another examination just as hard as
this, for fear it was by chance that he passed the first time,
because the subjects given happened to be just those that he
knew best. If he breaks a rule, lets somebody help him, leaves
his name uncovered, or goes out of the room to fetch something
before he has finished, then he is not allowed to try this second
time, but has failed altogether. You would think it rather hard
to have double examinations like that, wouldn't you ? I expect
you think one is bad enough.

If a student gets through these essays and a poem, then
he has next to wiite from memory any piece he may be asked



for out of another book, called " The Sacred Edict ; " if he makes
the smallest mistake, he will not pass, so he will really have to
know the whole book by heart. If he can do this last thing
(j[inte right, then the examination is over, and his name will
be published in a list of those who have been successful : he
will be above the common people, bat not j^et fit to be employed



under the government. Those who have passed this examination
have the title of " Budding Talent," and may wear gold buttons in
their caps.

The second great examination is only held once in tliree
years, in all the capital cities of the eighteen provinces ; there
are generally between five and ten thousand students at the


examinations. In every capital there is a hall built on purpose
for them, large enough to hold ten thousand people ; but instead
of all writing in one large room, each man has a little cell to
himself, so that no one shall help any one else, or copy from
another. Those who go into these cells to be examined, take
with them not only their food, but also their beds, for the
examination lasts two days, and if they came out at night, they
might ask someone outside to tell the'm something they did not
know or had forgotten. During these two days, no one may go
into the hall from outside, and no one would think of coming out
from inside, unless his papers were finished.

This time three essays have to be written and one poem, the
subjects being again taken from " The Four Books." When the
papers are finished, they are given to a set of examiners, who look
over them to see that there are no very great mistakes, and
whether all the rules have been kept. If they see any great
fault, the papers go no fm-ther, and the writers are told they have
failed ; but if not, then they are given to some scribes, who copy
them all out in red ink, so that nobody shall be able to find out
who \\Tote them ; but in spite of all this care, there is sometimes
cheating. When the copying is done, the two sets of papers,
those in red ink and those in black, are given to another set of
men, who compare them, to see that no mistakes are made
in the copying, but that they are really exactly alike ; and
then at last they are given to the real examiners, who go
over them all very carefully. If they are not satisfied witli
them, they go no further, but if they are, then they put a
round red mark on them, and after this they go to the chief
examiners, who choose out of them all those that they consider
the best.

On the morning of the third day of the examination, the
doors of the hall are opened, and the students come out. They
are received with music and a great firing of guns ; but they are

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only let out for one day's rest ; after that, those who were success-
ful go back for another two days like the first, except that the
examination, instead of being in " The Four Books," is in " The
Five Classics," another collection made by Confucius, Then
comes another day of rest, followed by a third examination on all
kinds of different subjects.

Now that you know how hard it is, you will not be surprised
that only about one in a hundred gets through, and that some of
them die after going through the examination, because they are
so exhausted by the hard work. A student who has passed this
second examination has the title of the " Promoted Man," and
can get work in the lower government offices.

The third examination is also held once in three years, but
instead of being at all the capitals of the provinces, it is only held
at Pekin, the capital of the Empire, and in case some of the
students should be too poor to be able to afford to travel there, the
expenses of all who go are paid by the government. Generally
between tw^o and three hundred pass this third examination ; that
is very much fewer than the number who pass the first and second.
Those who fail in the third, but have passed the other two, are
scattered over the country in their own towns and villages,
and help to keep up the love of learning and the desire for it.
Many of them are school-masters, those who have passed the
second examination taking more advanced pupils than those who
have only passed the first, and others of them are employed as
clerks. Those who do succeed in passing the third examination
can get high places in the government, and have the title of
''Advanced Scholars."

The fourth examination is only passed by a very few of the
most learned, who want to be quite at the top of the tree and
to have the highest government offices of all. Their title of
Academician is given them with a great deal of pomp at the
emperor's palace. Those who liave passed any examination after



the first, are allowed to have a tablet put over the doors of
their houses.

Another thing that is rather strange is that what we call a
" coach " in England, that is a gentleman who prepares other
gentlemen to pass their examinations, is called a "horse" in



X China, as iu England, there are all sorts of houses for
all sorts of people, so that I cannot possibly tell you
about all of them ; but I will try to tell you enough to
make you understand some of the ways in which
Chinese houses are different from ours. I will tell you
about the better sort of houses first.
They are nearly all built entirely on the ground floor, so that
in most of them there is no such place as "upstairs." The
Chinese who have travelled to Europe have been very much
surprised to see the houses so high ; when an emperor was once
told about them, he asked whether it was because European
countries were so small that the people in them lived on the top
of each other. It is a common opinion too that it is very unlucky
to live in a high house, and there are no people in the world who
believe more in luck than the Chinese do. In large towns, where
there is not much room to spare, the shops and some of the other
houses have a story above the ground floor, and sometimes on the
flat roof people sit and get a little fresh air in hot weather.

The houses are built of brick, sifted earth, wood, matting, or
thatch. The only part to be seen from the street is a blank stone
wall with no windows. The Chinese object very much to be
looked at when they are at home by people outside ; they like
then homes to be quite private, so all the windows are made


to look into a. courtyard instead of into the street, and tlie court-
yard is shut in by the house itself.

The grandest country houses have a gate-way with three
openings, a large folding-door in the middle, and a smaller one on
each side ; the smaller ones are used all day and every day by
people going to the house or coming from it ; the large one is used
only on great occasions, as for instance when some very grand
person comes to pay a visit.

Large lanterns are hung at the side of these gates, for there
are no gas-lamps in China, and on the lanterns are written the
names and the titles of the gentleman and lady who live in the
house, just as you sometimes see the name of a tradesman painted
on the lamp that hangs over his shop. There are a great many
lanterns about Chinese houses, both inside and out, made of
different kinds of paper ; they are nothing like so nice as our oil
lamps, for they give very little light and make a great deal of
smoke ; you know we always call lanterns made of paper " Chinese

Another thing that you would find in all Chinese houses, is a
number of little bits of writing, sentences written outside the
houses and on the walls, all about, everywhere, not for the sake
of the sentences, but because the Chinese are so fond of their
language that they think nothing else could ornament their houses
so nicely.

When you go through the gates, you find yourself in a court,
where the carriages are kept ; not coaches to be drawn by horses,
but wdiat we should call sedan chairs, to be carried by men. This
front court is generally adorned with shrubs or flowers in pots or
in stands.

If the house is in a town, or not grand enough to have one
of these gateways, there will be a screen of wood or brick to hide
the front court from passers by, and for another still stranger
purpose — to keep out evil spirits, or the ghosts of poor relations


who have died, aud who may be coming to the house to torment
their friends, either because they have not fed them properly or to
persuade them to give them more attention. For the same
reason the Chinese always take care to build their houses in
such a waj^ that one door shall not come opposite another, as they
believe that spirits can only move in straight lines, so if they
came into one room of a house, they would not be able to get into

If you want to go into the house, you will cross the court,
and go up a few steps to get to the front door, and inside that
you will find a hall, in which the ancestors of the people of the
house are worshipped, and where visitors are received. When you
leave this hall, you will come, not to more rooms, but to another
courtyard like the first, except that it is surrounded by rooms, and
io these rooms the men of the house live ; for in China as in India
the ladies are kept shut up. This court is ornamented too, and
more grandly than the first, for it generally has a fish-pond crossed
by wonderful little marble bridges, as well as tiny trees, ferns, and
temples, aU small together.

At one end of the courtyard there is a room that is only used
as a sort of state apartment, in which to receive any very particular
gentlemen friends or relations, and feed them with tea and cakes.
The walls are hung with scrolls, some of them having pictures on
them and some waiting. All the sitting-rooms and bed-rooms for
the gentlemen are round this second court, and beyond it is a
third, very much like the second, only it belongs to the ladies
instead of the gentlemen.

Chinese ladies are better ofi" than Hindu ones in this, that
though they are kept shut up all over the country, in some j^arts
very strictly indeed, aud are not allowed to see so many of their
male relations as ladies in India may see, yet their rooms are
often as nice as the gentlemen's, and their courtyard is just as
nice too.


In every large house there is what is called a receptiou
room for tlie ladies, where they all sit together and talk and do
their needlework, and where an image of the chief idol is kept.
The ladies' bedrooms open out of this room, and when the}^ want
to be by themselves, they can always go to their own rooms ; tliey
very often invite their visitors to go in with them, so that they
can have private talks. The reception-room is also used for a
dressing-room, and the ladies' servants use it to sleep in.

Not even the most intimate male relations may enter the
ladies' part of the house ; and here they spend all their time, with
the children, smoking and gambling and gossiping with their
female friends and slaves. The children play about amongst the
rockeries and watch the little fishes in the pond. The courts
themselves are paved with marble or red tiles, and the rooms are
of grey brick, if they are not of wood. There is generally a
covered passage leading from the second court to the third ; how
the ladies must sometimes wish they could go down it, and see
what there is to be seen at the other end, and who is there, and
what they are doing ! At both ends of the passages, there are
several doorways to be gone through, to get into the courtyards,
none of them opposite each other, so that the evil spirits may not
be able to get about.
I If there is a very grand feast going on, and actors are hired to

\ perform for the amusement of the company, they are generally
j allowed to act in the ladies' court, so that the women can see
without being seen.

It generally happens that a grandfather and grandmother,
their sons and daughters and grand-children, all live together,
^ven as many as eighty people in one house, but each family has
separate rooms : they all eat together, and work on the same
land if they have any, the money they earn being divided between
them once a year.

There are a great many hotels and inns in China, not such


comfortable ones as we have in England. The hodrooms are very
low, and there are several beds in one room, so the travellers
cannot often be alone. There is often no furnitnre in the bedrooms,
except the beds and a lamp, and the wind and rain can both get
in very easily through cracks and openings. The beds are only
a few boards raised about two feet from the floor, with a mat on
them. Id hot weather the travellers just lie down to sleep on
these mats, with nothing to cover them but the clothes they are
wearing ; in cold weather there are coverings made of cloth and
padded with cotton, in which the men roll themselves up as
tightly as they can. These covers are scarcely ever washed, and
are used till they are so old that they are only a bundle of dirty
rags. Travellers generally carry their own bedding with them.

The inns are often only small huts made of mud ; inside there
are tea-tables, forms to sit on, and a large oven. The chief drink
taken at these inns is tea (I wish people got nothing worse than
tea at English inns), but at some of them there is sold a kind of
drink something like whiskey, which is very cheap indeed. In
some parts there is not much tea sold at these inns, though there
is a good deal drunk, for a traveller generally carries his tea with
him, and only has to buy some hot water.

Another very unpleasant thing about Chinese hotels and inns
is, that nobody is supposed to want ever to be alone, so that even
if a man should pay for a bedroom to himself, au3^body in the
town or village who likes will walk into his bedroom without
knocking, to look at him or ask him questions, especially if he is
not a Chinaman ; and as the windows are often only made of paper,
it is of no use to try to shut people out, for they have only to poke
one of their fingers through the windows, to make a hole large

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Online Libraryd. 1894 Terrien de LacouperieThe children of China. Written for the children of England → online text (page 7 of 18)