Henry Pearson Gratton.

As a Chinaman saw us; passages from his letters to a friend at home online

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wear a camel-like "hump" at the base of the vertebral column, which was
called the "bustle" - a contrivance calculated to unnerve the wearer, not
to speak of the looker-on; yet the American woman adopted it, distorted
her body, and aped the gait of the kangaroo, the form being called the
"Grecian bend." This lasted six months or more; first adopted by the
aristocracy, then by the common people, and by the time the latter had
it well in hand the _bon ton_ had cast it aside and were trying
something else.

A close study of this mad dressing shows that there is always a "hump."
At one time it went all around; later appeared only behind, like an
excrescence on a bilbol-tree. At the present time the designer has drawn
his picture showing it as a pendent bag from the "shirtwaist," like the
pouch of the bird pelican. A few years ago the designer, in a delirium,
placed the humps on the tops of the sleeves, then snatched them away and
tipped them upside down. Finally he appeared to go utterly mad with the
desire to humiliate the woman, and created a fashion that entailed
dragging the skirt on the ground from one to two feet.

Did the American woman resent the insult; did she refuse to adopt a
custom not only disgusting but really filthy, one that a Chinese lady
would have died rather than have accepted? By no means; she seized upon
it with the ardor of a child with a new toy, and for a year the
side-paths of the great cities of the country were swept by women's
skirts, clouds of dust following them. The press took up the question,
but without effect; the fashion dragged its nauseating and frightful
course from rich and poor, and I was told by an official that it was
impossible to stop it or to force a glimmer of reason into the minds of
these women. Then they gave it up, and passed a law making it a
statutory offense, with heavy fines, for any one to "expectorate" on the
sidewalk or anywhere else where the saliva could be swept up by the
trains of the women of nearly all classes who followed the fashion. The
American woman, as I have said, looks askance at the footgear of the
Chinese - high, warm, dry, sanitary, yet revels in creations which cramp
the feet and distort the anatomy. The shoes are made of leather,
inflexible, pointed; and to enable them to deceive the men into the
belief that they have high insteps (a sign of good blood here) the women
wear stilt-like heels, which throw the foot forward and elevate the heel
from two to three inches above the ground.

But all this is but a bagatelle to the fashions in deformity which we
find among nearly all American women. There are throughout the country
numbers of large manufactories which make "corsets" - a peculiar waist
and lung compressor, used by nearly every woman in America. These men
are as dogmatic as the designers of the fashion-plates. They also issue
plates or guides showing new changes, and the women, like sheep, adopt
them. The American woman believes that a narrow waist enhances her
beauty, and the corset-maker works upon the national weakness and builds
creations that put to shame and ridicule the bound feet of the
aristocratic Chinese woman. The corset is a lace and ribbon-decorated
armor, made either of steel ribs or whale-bone, which fits the waist and
clings to the hips. It is laced up, and the degree of tightness depends
upon the will or nerve of the wearer. It compresses the heart and lungs,
and wearing it is a most barbarous custom - a telling argument against
the assumption of high intelligence on the part of the Americans, who,
in this respect, rank with the flat-headed Indians of the northwest
American coast, whose heads I have seen in their medical offices side by
side with a diagram showing the abnormal conditions caused by the

A year ago the fiat went forth that the American woman must have wide
hips. Presto! there appeared especially devised machinery, advertised in
all the journals, accomplishing the condition for those whom nature had
not well endowed. Now the dressmaker has decided that they must be
narrow-hipped, and half a million dollars in false hips, rubber pads,
and other properties are cast aside. No extravaganza is too absurd for
these people who are abject slaves to the whimsicalities of the
designer, who is a wag in his way, as has been well shown in a story
told to me. The designers for a famous man dressmaker in Paris had a
habit of taking sketches of the latest creations to their club meetings.
One evening a clever caricaturist took a caricature of a fashion showing
a woman with enormous and outlandish sleeves. It created a laugh. "As
impossible as it is," said the artist, "I will wager a dinner that if I
present it seriously to a certain fashion paper they will take it up."
This is said to be the history of the "big-sleeve" fashion that really
amazed the Americans themselves.

The customs of women here are so at variance with those of China that
they are not readily understood. Our ways are those culled from a
civilization of thousands of years; theirs from one just beginning; yet
they have the temerity to speak of China as effete and behind the times.
In writing, the women affect the English round hand and write across
from left to right, and then beginning at the left of the page again.
They are fond of perfumes, especially the lower classes, and display a
barbaric taste for jewels. It is not uncommon to see the wife of a
wealthy man wear half a million pounds sterling in diamonds or rubies at
the opera. I was told that one lady wore a $5,000 diamond in her garter.
The utterly strange and contradictory customs of these women are best
observed at the beach and bath. In China if a woman is modest she is so
at all times; but this is not true with some Americans, who appear to
have the desire to attract attention, especially that of men, by an
appeal to the beautiful in nature and art; at least this is the
impression the unprejudiced looker-on gains by a sojourn in the great
cities and fashionable resorts. If you happen to be riding horseback, or
walking in the street with a lady, and any accident occurs to her
costume whereby her neck, her leg, or her ankle is exposed, she will be
mortified beyond expression; yet the night previous you might have sat
in the box with her at the opera, when her décolleté gown had made her
the mark for hundreds of lorgnettes. Again, this lady the next morning
might bathe with me at the beach and lie on the sand basking in the sun
like a siren in a costume that would arrest the attention of a St.

Let me describe such a costume: A pair of skin-tight black stockings,
then a pair of tights of black silk and a flimsy black skirt that comes
just to the knee; a black silk waist, armless, and as low in the neck as
the moral law permits, beneath which, to preserve her contour, is a
water-proof corset. Limbs, to expose which an inch on the street were a
crime, are blazoned to the world at Newport, Cape May, Atlantic City,
and other resorts, and often photographed and shown in the papers. To
explain this manifest contradiction would be beyond the powers of an
Oriental, had he the prescience of the immortal Confucius and the
divination of a Mahomet and Hilliel combined.



Among the many topics I have discussed with Americans, our alleged
superstitions, or our belief in so-called dragons, genii, ghosts, etc.,
seem to have made the deepest impression. A charming American woman,
whom I met at the - - Embassy at dinner, told me with seriousness that
our people may be intelligent, but the fact that in San Francisco and
Los Angeles they at certain times drag through the streets a dragon five
hundred feet long to exorcise the evil spirits, showed that the Chinese
were grossly superstitious. If I had told my companion that she was the
victim of a thousand superstitions, she would have taken it as an
affront, because, according to American usage, it is not proper to
dispute with a lady. The Americans are the most superstitious people in
the world. They will not sit down to a dinner-table when there are
thirteen persons. No hostess would attempt such a thing, the belief
being general that some one of the guests would die within a year. I was
a guest at a dinner-party when a lady suddenly remarked, "We are
thirteen." Several of the guests were evidently much annoyed, and the
hostess, a most pleasing woman, apologized, and replied that she had
invited fourteen, but one guest had failed her. It was apparent that
something must be done, and this was cleverly solved by the hostess
sending for her mother, who joined the party, and the dinner proceeded.
I do not think _all_ the guests believed in this absurd superstition,
but they were _all_ very uncomfortable. I do not believe I met a
society woman in Washington or New York who would walk through a
cemetery or graveyard at midnight alone. I asked several ladies if they
would do this, and all were horrified at the idea, though strongly
denying any belief in ghosts or spirits.

In nearly every American city one or more houses may be found haunted by
ghosts, which Americans believe have made the places so disagreeable
that the houses have been in consequence deserted. So well-defined is
the superstition, and so recurrent are the beliefs in ghosts and
spirits, that the best-educated people have found it necessary to
establish a society, called the Society for Psychical Research, in order
to demonstrate that ghosts are not possible. I believe I am not
overstepping the bounds when I say that this vainglorious people, who
claim to have the finest public-school system in the world, are,
considering their advantages, the most superstitious of all the white
races. Out of perhaps thirty men, whom I asked, not one was willing to
say he could pass through a graveyard at night without fear at heart, an
undefined nervous feeling, due to innate superstition. The middle-class
woman who stumbles upstairs considers it to mean that she will not
marry. To break a mirror, or receive as a present a knife, also means
bad luck. Many people wear amulets, safe-guards, and good-luck stones.
Several millions of the Catholic sect wear a charm, which they think
will save them from sudden death. All Catholics believe that some of
their churches own the bones of saints, which have the power to give
them health and other good things. Many Americans wear the seed of the
horse-chestnut, and many others wear lucky coins. Belief in the luck of
the four-leaf clover, instead of that with three leaves, is so strong
that people will spend hours in hunting for one. They are designed into
pins and certain insignia, and used in a hundred other ways.

But more remarkable than all is the old horseshoe superstition. I have
seen beautifully gowned ladies stop their driver, descend from the
carriage, and pick up such a shoe and carry it home, telling me that
they never failed to pick up one, as it brought good luck; yet this lady
laughed at our dragon! In the country, horseshoes are commonly seen over
the doors of stables, and even of houses. These same people once hung
women for witchcraft, and slaughtered women for persisting in certain
religious beliefs. I had the pleasure of meeting a well-known man, who
stated that he had the power of the "evil eye." Innumerable people
believe the paw of an animal called the rabbit to contain sovereign good
luck. They carry it about, and can buy it in shops. Indeed, I could fill
a volume, much less a letter, with the absurd superstitions of these
people who send women to China to convert the "Heathen Chinee," who may
be "peculiar," as Mr. Harte states in his poem; but the Chinaman
certainly has not the marvelous variety of superstitions possessed by
the American, who does not allow cats about rooms where there are
infants, fearing that they will suck the child's breath; who believe
that certain snakes milk cows, and that mermen are possible. I stood in
a tent last summer at Atlantic City - a large seaside resort - and watched
a line of middle-class people passing to see a "Chinese mermaid," of the
kind the Japanese manufacture so cleverly. It was to be seen on the
water. All, so far as I could judge, accepted it as real. So much for
the influence of the American public school, where physiology is taught.



One feature of American life is so peculiar that I fear I can not
present it to you clearly, as there is nothing like it under the sun. I
refer to the newspapers. If such an institution should appear in any
Oriental country, or even in Russia, many heads would fall to the ground
for treason or gross disrespect to the power of the throne. The American
must not only have the news of his neighbor, but the news of the world
every hour in the day, and the newspapers furnish it. In the villages
they appear weekly, in the towns daily, in the great cities hourly, boys
screaming their names, shouting and yelling like demons. Yesterday
beneath the window a boy screamed, "The Empress of China elopes with
her coachman!" I bought the paper, in which a column was devoted to it.
Fancy this in Pekin. Shades of - - ! I can not better describe these
papers than to say they have absolute license as to what to print, this
freedom being a principle, but it is grossly abused by blackmailers. The
papers have no respect for man, woman, or child, the President or the
Deity. The most flagrant attacks are made upon private persons. Rarely
is an editor shot or imprisoned. The President may be called vile names,
his appearance may become the butt of ridicule in opposition papers, and
cartoonists, employed at large salaries, draw insulting pictures of him
and his Cabinet. One would think that the way to obtain patronage of a
person would be to praise him, but this would be considered an
orientalism. The real way to secure readers in America is to abuse,
insult, and outrage private feelings, the argument being that people
will buy the journal to see what is said about them. All the American
press is not founded upon this system of virtual blackmail. There are
respectable papers, conservative and honorable; but I believe I am not
overstating it when I say that every large city has at least one paper
where the secrets of a family and its most sacred traditions are treated
as lawful game.

The actual heads of papers have often been men of high standing, as
Horace Greeley, Henry J. Raymond, E. L. Godkin, Henry Watterson, the
late Charles A. Dana, James Gordon Bennett, and William Cullen Bryant.
But in the modern newspaper the man in control is a managing editor,
whose tenure of office depends upon his keeping ahead of all others.
The press, then, with its telegraphic connection with the world, with
its thousands of readers, is a power, and in the hands of a man of small
mind becomes a menace to civilization and easily drifts into blackmail.
This is displayed in a thousand ways, especially in politics. The editor
desires to obtain "influence," the power to secure places for his
favorites, and, if he is slighted, he intimates to the men in power,
"Appoint my candidate or I will attack you." This is a virtual threat.
In this way the editor intimidates the office-holder. I was informed by
a good authority of two journals of standing in America which he knew
were started as "blackmailing sheets"; and certainly the license of the
press is in every way diabolical, a result of the American dogma of free
speech. When one arrives in America he is met with dozens of
representatives of the press, who ask a thousand and one personal and
impertinent questions, which, if one does not answer, one is attacked in
some insidious way. One man I know refused to listen to a very
importunate newspaper man, and was congratulating himself on his escape,
when on the following day an article appeared in the paper giving
several libelous pictures of him, the object being to show that he had
nothing to say because he was mentally deficient. He appealed to the
editor, but was told that his only recourse was to sue. As one walks
down the gangplank of a ship he may become the mark for ten or fifteen
cameras, which photograph him without permission, and whose owners will
"poke fun" at his resistance.

As a news-collecting medium the press of the United States is a
magnificent organization. At breakfast you receive the news of the
whole world - social, diplomatic, criminal, and religious. Meetings of
Congress and stories of private life are alike all served up, fully
illustrated with pictures of the people and events. A corner is devoted
to children, another to women, another to religious Americans, and a
little sermon is preached. Then there are suggestive pictures for the
man about town, recipes for the cook, weather reports for the traveler,
a story for the romancer, perhaps a poem, and an editorial page, where
ideas and theories are promulgated and opinions manufactured on all
subjects, ready made for adoption by the reader, who in many instances
has his thinking done for him. I made a test of this, and asked a number
of men for their opinion on a certain subject, and then guessed the name
of their favorite paper, and in most instances was correct. They all
claimed that they took the paper because it agreed with their political
ideas; but I am confident that the reverse is true, the paper having
insidiously trained them to adopt its view. Here we see where the power
of one man or editor comes in, and worse yet, a nation which acquires
this "newspaper habit," this having some one to think for it by
machinery, as it were, will lose its mental power, its facility in
analysis. I made bold to suggest this to a prominent man, but he merely
laughed. As a whole, the American newspapers are valuable; they are the
real educators of the people, and have a vast influence. For this reason
there should be some restriction imposed on them.



At a dinner at Manchester in the summer I had as my _vis-à-vis_ a
delightful young American, who, among other things, said to me: "It is
astonishing to me that so many of your people live long, considering the
ignorance of your doctors." I assured her that this was merely her point
of view, and that we were well satisfied with our doctors or physicians.
I wished to retaliate by telling my fair companion a story I had heard
the day previous. An American physician operated upon a man and removed
what he called a "cyst," which he displayed with some pride to a doctor
of another school. "Why, man," said the latter, "that isn't a cyst;
it's the man's kidney!"

The Americans have made rapid advances in medicine and surgery, and they
have some extraordinary physicians. From two to four years of study
completes the education of some of the doctors, and hundreds are turned
out every year. Some are of the old and regular school of medicine, but
others are called homeopathic, which means that they give small doses of
the more powerful medicines. Then there are those who practise in both
schools. Indeed, in no other field does ignorance, superstition,
credulity, and lack of real education display itself as among the
American doctors or healers. I believe I could fill a volume by the mere
enumeration of the diabolical and absurd nostrums offered by knaves to
heal men who profess to hold in ridicule the Chinese doctors. I mention
but a few, and when I tell you, as a truth beyond cavil, that the most
extraordinary of these healers, the most impossible, have the largest
following, you can see what I mean by the credulity of the people as a
whole. Christian Science doctors have a following of tens of thousands.
They combine so-called science with religion; leave their God to cure
them at long or short range through the medium of so-called agents. The
head of this faction is an ignorant but clever woman, who has turned the
heads of perhaps thirty-three and a third per cent of the American women
whom she has come in contact with.

Then come the faith curists, who rely upon faith alone. You simply are
to _think_ you will get well. Of course, many die from neglect. As an
illustration of the credulity of the average American, a Christian
Science healer was once treating a sick woman from a distant town, and
finally the patient died. When the bill was presented the husband said,
"You have charged for treatment two weeks after my wife died." It was a
fact that the healer had been treating the woman after she was buried,
the husband having failed to give notice of the death. One would have
expected the "healer" to be thrown into confusion, but far from it; she
merely replied, "I thought I noticed a vacancy."

Next come the musical curists, who listen to thrills of sound, a big
organ being the doctor. Then there is the psychometric doctor, who cures
by spirits. The spirit doctor cures in the same way. The palmist
professes to point out how to avoid the ills of life. Magnetic healers
have hundreds of victims in every city. Their advertisements in the
journals of all sorts are of countless kinds. Some cure at short hand,
some miles distant from the patient. They are equaled in numbers by the
hypnotists, or hypnotic doctors, who profess to throw their patients
into a trance and cure them by suggestion. I heard of one cure in which
the guileless American is made to lie in an open grave; this is called
"the return to nature." Again, patients are cured by being buried in hot
mud or in hot sand. I have seen a salt-water cure, where patients were
made to remain in the ocean ten hours a day. The plain water cure has
thousands of followers, with hospitals and infirmaries, where the
patient is bathed, soaked, filled, washed, and plunged in water and
charged a high amount.

Then there is the vegetarian cure, no meat being eaten; and there are
the meat eaters, who use no vegetables. There are over fifty thousand
_masseurs_ and osteopaths in the country, who cure by baths and
rubbing. You may have a bath of milk, water, electricity, or alcohol, or
a bath of any description under the sun, which is guaranteed to cure any
and all ailments. Perhaps the most extraordinary curists are the color
doctors. They have rooms filled with blue and other colors, in whose
rays the patient victim or the victim patient sits, "like Patience on a
monument." I could not begin to give you an enumeration of the various
kinds of electric cures; they are legion. But the most amazing class
comprises the patent-medicine men, who are usually not doctors at all,
but buy from some one a "cure" and then advertise it, spending in one
instance which I investigated one million dollars a year. Every
advantageous wall, stone, or cliff in America will be posted. You see
the name at every turn, and the gullible Americans bite, chew, and

It is not overstating facts when I say that three-fifths of the people
buy some of these patent nostrums, which the real medical men denounce,
showing that the masses of the people are densely ignorant, the victims
of any faker who may shout his wares loud enough. In China such a thing
would be impossible; the block would stop the practise; but, my dear
- - , the Americans assure me China is a thousand years behind the
times, for which let us be devoutly thankful! I have not enumerated a
tenth of the kinds of doctors who prey upon these unfortunate people.
There are companies of them, who guarantee to cure anything, and
skilfully mulct the sick of their last penny. There are retreats for the
unfortunate, farms for deserted infants, and homes for unfortunate
women carried on by villains of both sexes. There are traveling doctors
who go from town to town, who cure "while you wait," and give a circus
while talking and selling their cure; and in nine cases out of ten the
nostrum is an alcoholic drink disguised.

In no land under the sun are there so many ignorant blatant fakers
preying on a people, and in no land do you find so credulous a throng as
in America, yet claiming to represent the cream of the intelligence of
the world; they are so easily led that the most impossible person, if he
be a good talker, can go abroad and by the use of money and audacity
secure a following to drink his salt water, paying a dollar a bottle for
it and sing his praises. Such a doctor can secure the names and pictures
of judges, governors of States, senators, congressmen, prominent men and
women, officers of the volunteer army, artists, actors, singers - in
fact, prominent people of all kinds will provide their pictures and give
testimonials, which are blazonly published. These same people go to

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Online LibraryHenry Pearson GrattonAs a Chinaman saw us; passages from his letters to a friend at home → online text (page 4 of 12)