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A History of the Laws, Manners and Customs of the People
By John Henry Gray
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
IN the beginning, so Chinese writers relate, when all was darkness and confusion, there came from a vast mundane egg, which divided itself into two parts, a human being, who is, and has always been known in Chinese anuals as Poon-koo Wong. Of the upper portion of the shell, this being formed the heavens, and of the lower part he made the earth. To dispel the darkness by which all was enveloped, he created with his right hand, the sun to rule the day, and with his left hand, the moon to rule the night. He made the stars also. Then he called into existence the five elements of earth, water, fire, metal, and wood. Chinese writers say also that, in order to people the earth, Poon-koo Wong made a cloud of vapour rise from a piece of gold, and a similar cloud from a piece of wood. By breathing on them he gave to the vapour which arose from the gold, a male principle; and to that which ascended from the wood, a female principle. From the union of these two clouds or spirits, sprang a son and daughter, Ying Yee and Cha-noee; and the descendants of this pair in due course of time, overspread the whole country. Thus, according to Chinese cosmogony, came into being the land of Han, and its vast population, in other words, the world and its inhabitants. In honour of Poon-koo Wong there are many temples throughout China. The idol of this hero of antiquity is an almost nude figure made of wood or clay. Around the loins is a representation of an apron of leaves. Such, say the Chinese, was his only covering, there being no clothes in those earliest of days.
The primordia of all countries are enveloped in much that is obscure and fabulous, and it is extremely difficult for the historian to fix the period when civil history had its beginnings. China is no exception, but there can, I think, be no doubt of the great antiquity of the Chinese Empire. It is not, I believe, rash to say that it has survived a period of four thousand years, without having undergone any great change either in the laws by which it is governed, or in the speech, manners, and customs of its teeming population. It is generally allowed that celestial observations were made at Babylon two thousand two hundred and thirty-four years before the birth of Christ, and such observations are probably the strongest evidence which any nation can produce in support of its claim to antiquity. These were not in any way associated with the history of sublunary events. Those made by the Chinese, on the contrary, have served to mark the events of their national history. They speak of an eclipse calculated in their country two thousand one hundred and fifty-five years before Christ. That this eclipse really took place was proved by the calculations of the missionaries of the order of Jesus, who visited China in the sixteenth century. Gaubil, one of the early Roman Catholic missionaries to China—a man pre-eminently distinguished for his mathematical attainments—examined a series of thirty-six eclipses to which allusion is made in the writings of Confucius. After careful examination he concluded that of these thirty-six eclipses only two were false, and two uncertain. The correctness of the remaining thirty-two, he considered established beyond all reasonable doubt. The chronology of the Chinese, however, extends considerably beyond the first of these eclipses, and is substantiated by satisfactory evidence as far back as the reign of the Emperor Yaou. From the time of this sovereign, the history of China begins to assume the appearance of truth, whereas the account of all preceding reigns is clouded with fable and uncertainty.
To this large and ancient Asiatic Empire, many names are given by its inhabitants. The principal are Tchung Kwock, and Tien Chu. The term Tchung Kwock or Middle Kingdom, was given to the country on the arrogant supposition that it is the grand central kingdom of the globe around which all the other petty states are arranged as so many different satellites. Tien Chu is the term in which the nation sets forth its heavenly origin in contradistinction to the inferior genesis of all other earthly states. By the tribes who dwell between China and the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea, the country is called Cathay, or the Flowery Land; and as, before the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope, the highway from Europe to China lay through these countries, this was the name Europeans became acquainted with. The word China is said to be derived from the name of an emperor of the short-lived dynasty of Tsin. This emperor, who was named Ching Wong, is said in Chinese anuals to have been one of the greatest heroes of whom China, or indeed, any other land can boast. He extended his conquests over the countries immediately contiguous to the western frontier of his kingdom, and he drove the Tartar tribes in the north, back to their mountain fastnesses, and completed the construction of the Great Wall of China to prevent their incursions in future. This monarch is said to have died about two hundred years before Christ, so that the Great Wall of China may be considered to be more than two thousand years old. It can never have been of any great use, except in checking the predatory raids of the nomadic tribes of Tartary. It is fifteen hundred miles long, and so extensive a line could with difficulty be protected at all points. It is now merely regarded as a monument of great labour and antiquity.
China proper lies between 18º and 41º north latitude. It has its eastern extremity, where it borders on the Corea, marked by 124º east longitude, while its western boundary, where it borders on the Burmese Empire and Western Thibet, is cut by 98º east longitude. Thus it may be regarded as the greatest compact country in the world, as it incloses an area of upwards of one million three hundred thousand square miles. Of this vast extent of surface, one side only is entirely washed by the ocean. The sea-board, however, extends over two thousand five hundred English miles. It includes many bays and estuaries, so studded with islands, that one of the most favourite and appropriate titles of the Emperor, is "the Sovereign of the ten thousand isles." The ocean by which this vast coast is washed, is divided into four sections. The portion of sea between Cochin China and the island of Hainan is called the Tonquin Gulf; that between Hainan and Formosa, is known as the China Sea; that which stretches from the north cape of Formosa along the shores of the respective provinces of Fo-kien, Che-kiang, and Kiang-soo is called the Eastern Sea; and the front section which runs thence to the Corea, the Yellow Sea. As these seas, which form the southern and eastern boundaries of the empire, abound with shoals and banks—the most famous of which are the Pratas and the Paracelles—navigation is attended with no ordinary degree of risk and danger.
Of the oceans or seas of China, what are held to be the north, south, east, and west seas are regarded as objects worthy of adoration. They are worshipped by the officials at each vernal and autumnal equinox, and sacrifices are offered on these occasions. The ceremony of worshipping the eastern sea is performed at Loi-chow, a prefectoral city in the province of Shan-tung; the western ocean is worshipped at Wing-tsi, a country or district city in the province of Shen-si; the southern ocean at Polo, in the province of Kwang-tung; and the northern ocean at Man-chow, in the prefecture of Shing-king, which is beyond the great wall of China.
In 1725, the second year of his reign, the Emperor Yung Ching conferred titles and other honours upon the four dragons, which the Chinese suppose to inhabit these oceans. In honour of Hin Yan, Ching Hung, Shung Tai, and Tchu Ming—to introduce these dragons by their new names—theatrical representations are, I believe, on no account allowed.
The great political divisions of the country are eighteen provinces, viz, Shang-tung, Pe-cheli, Shan-si, and Shen-si in the north; Kwang-tung and Kwang-si in the south; Che-kiang Fo-kien and Kiang-soo in the east; Kan-soo, Sze-chuen, and Yun-nan in the west; and Ngan-hui, Kiang-si,. Hoo-nam, Hoo-peh, Ho-nam, and Kwei-chow, which may be regarded as the midland provinces.
Of these provinces Sze-chuen is the largest, Che-kiang the smallest, and Kwang-tung, from its almost tropical position, one of the most fertile. Each province is sub-divided into poos, districts, or counties, and prefectures or departments. A poo, the capital of which is a market town, consists of a number of towns and villages; a district or county, the capital of which is a walled city, consists of a number of poos; a prefecture or department, the capital of which is also a walled city, consists of a number of districts or counties, and a province, the capital of which is also a walled city, consists of a number of prefectures. The eighteen provinces of China Proper, in their collective capacity, contain upwards of four thousand walled cities, Pekin (which though a royal city, and the seat of the central government, is without exception the dirtiest place I ever entered) being the capital. The cities which rank next to the capital in point of importance, though vastly superior to it in almost every respect, are Nankin, Soo-chow, Hang- chow, and Canton. The market towns and villages of this vast empire are also very numerous.
The walls by which each county, and prefectoral, and provincial capital city is inclosed are from thirty to fifty or sixty feet high. Those by which Pekin is surrounded are in appearance by far the most imposing. In many instances, however, the walls of Chinese cities are undertakings of great magnitude, and are remarkable, both for the extent of their circumference and for their massive appearance, their width affording space sufficient for two carriages travelling abreast.
Thus, for example, those which inclose the city of Nankin are eighteen English miles in circumference. At all events, it took me six hours to walk round them; and I walked, without stopping once, at a rate exceeding three miles per hour. The walls of Chinese cities are castellated, and provided with embrasures for artillery, and loop holes for musketry. At frequent intervals there are watch-towers and barracks for the accommodation of troops. On the top of the ramparts in some places are piled large stones, which in times of tumult or war are thrown upon the heads of assailants. Such stones are not by any means despicable missiles. At the commencement of the last war which England, in alliance with France, waged against China, some soldiers of Her Majesty's 59th Regiment were killed by them in the vicinity of the Tai-ping gate of Canton: This primitive mode of warfare belongs rather to the days when, as Plutarch relates, Pyrrhus was killed at Argos by a tile thrown by a woman, than to the nineteenth century; or to those still more remote, when Abimelech, the unworthy son of Gideon, met his death at Thebez from a fragment of a millstone, which in this case also a woman's hand had thrown. In consequence of their great antiquity, the walls of many of the northern cities are neglected and dilapidated. Those by which the more important and wealthy cities are inclosed, are in a very perfect condition, and as a matter of course receive constant attention. Owing to their great antiquity, however, portions of them not unfrequently give way with a great crash. The walls of Canton have to my own knowledge given way at different points, on two or three occasions. Thus in the month of June, 1871, a portion of the west wall of the city, which was very old, and had become saturated with recent heavy rains, suddenly gave way, and buried in its ruins seven dwelling- houses. Fortunately the occupants had betaken themselves to other dwelling-houses.
At the north, south, east, and west sides of each Chinese city, there are large folding gates of great strength. These are further secured by equally massive inner gates. Each of the principal outer gates of the city of Nankin is strengthened by three such inner gates. Of the gates of a Chinese city, the one which is held in honour above all others is that at the south. Through the south gate, or gate of honour, which is especially regarded as the emperor's gate, all officials coming to the city to hold office enter; and when they vacate office, it is by the same gate that they depart. No funeral procession is allowed to pass through this gate, and the same prohibition excludes the bearers of night-soil, or of anything which is regarded as unclean. The south gate of the capital of the empire, is regarded as so sacred, that as a rule, it is kept closed, and only opened when the emperor has occasion to pass that way.
The streets of cities, towns, and villages are generally wider in the northern than in the southern provinces of the empire. Those of Pekin are very broad. Indeed in this respect they equal those of European cities, The narrowness of the streets in the south of China gives them the great advantage of coolness during the summer months. Many of them are so narrow as to shut out in a great measure the rays of a hot tropical sun; and in some instances they are partially covered over during the hot season by the residents, with canvas, matting, or thin planks of timber. Many of the towns, also, in the north of Formosa, are protected in this way. The pathways which run in front of the shops are arched over, and as they are frequently constructed in the form of rude arcades, it is possible to pass from one part of the town to another, without exposing oneself to the sun or rain. Between the footpaths that are covered in this way, there is a thoroughfare for sedan chairs and beasts of burden. It appeared to me, however, that this centre thoroughfare is more generally used as a public dust-bin than as a street. The shopkeepers are in the habit of throwing into it all sorts of refuse, which is not so speedily removed by the scavengers of the town as it ought to be. Manka, which is one of the principal towns in the north of Formosa, is above all others remarkable for the arrangements of its streets after this fashion. At Hoo-chow, a prefectoral city in the province of Che-kiang, I passed through two streets which were constructed in the form of arcades, which are not however so perfect as those of Manka. The streets of Chinese cities are paved with granite slabs, bricks, or paving stones. Those of the city of Canton are paved with granite slabs. The streets of the city of Soo-chow—so long famous for the wealth of its citizens—are in some cases paved with granite slabs, and in others with paving-stones.
Under the streets of Chinese towns there are conduits into which the rain percolates as it falls through the chinks between the granite slabs. Where the streets are paved with paving stones, there are channels or gutters on either side; these, however, are so narrow as to prove of little or no service, so that they become pools of filth from which there is a fearful stench in the summer months. The streets of Pekin are macadamised, or supposed to be so. They are considerably raised in the centre, so that the rain-water may easily flow into the conduits on either side. Road-metal is never laid on them, however, and in the rainy season they are filthy to a degree. In summer, they are so covered with dust as to render travelling upon them a thing to be avoided. In the evening, there is a most intolerable stench; for the conduits are then opened, and the stagnant water they contain is scooped out and scattered broadcast over the streets for the purpose of laying the dust. The names which are given to the streets of Chinese cities are generally very high-sounding. Thus we have the Street of Golden Profits; the Street of Benevolence and Love; the Street of Everlasting Love; the Street of Longevity; the Street of One Hundred Grandsons: the Street of One Thousand Grandsons; the Street of Saluting Dragons; the Street of the Sweeping Dragon; the Street of the Reposing Dragon; the Street of Refreshing Breezes; the Street of One Thousand Beatitudes; the Street of a Thousandfold Peace; the Street of Five Happinesses; the Street of Ten Thousand Happinesses; the Street of Ninefold Brightness; the Street of Accumulated Goodness. Other streets are simply numbered, as First Street, Second Street, Third Street, and so on.
Excerpted from CHINA by John Henry Gray. Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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