19TH CENTURY CHINESE SOCIETY
Arthur Henderson Smith In China the unit of social life is found in the family, the village or the clan, and these are often convertible terms. Thousands of Chinese villages comprise exclusively persons having the same surname, arid the same ancestors. The inhabitants have lived dn the same spot ever since they began to live at all, and trace an unbroken descent for many hundred years back to the last great political upheaval, such as the overthrow of the Ming dynasty, or its establishment under Hung Wu. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894. Smith (1845 -1932) was an American missionary who spent 54 years in China. In the 1920s, “Chinese Characteristics” was still the most widely read book on China among foreign residents there. He spent much of his time in Pangzhuang, a village in Shandong.]
In such a village there can be no relationship laterally more distant than "cousin," and every male member of an older generation is either a father, an uncle, or some kind of a "grandmother." Sometimes eleven generations are represented in the same small hamlet. This does not imply, as might be supposed, extreme old age on the part of any representative of the older generations. The Chinese marry young, marry repeatedly, often late in life, and constantly adopt children. The result is such a tangle among relatives, that without special enquiry and minute attention to the particular characters which are employed in writing the names of all who belong to the same "generation," it is impossible to determine who constitute "the rising generation," and who form the generation which rose long ago. An old man nearly seventy years of age affirms that a young man of thirty is his "grandfather." All the. numerous "cousins" of the same generation are termed " brothers," and if the perplexed foreigner insists upon accuracy, and enquires whether they are "own brothers," he will not infrequently be enlightened with the reply that they are ' own brother r cousins." The writer once proposed a question of this sort, and after some little hesitation the person addressed replied, " Why, yes, you might call them own brothers."
“These items are but particulars under the general head of the "social solidarity" of the Chinese. It is this solidarity, which forms the substratum upon which rests Chinese responsibility. Customs vary widely, and the " personal equation" is a most important factor, of which mere theory takes no account. Thus in a large and influential family, embracing many literary men, some of whom are local magnates, and perhaps graduates, the "head of the clan" may be an addle-headed old man, who can neither read nor write, and who has never in his life been ten miles from home.
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Crowded and Expansive China in the 19th Century
Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: “In China breathing seems to be Optional. There is nowhere any ventilation worth the name, except when a typhoon blows the roof from a dwelling, or when a family compels the owner to pull the house down to sell the timbers. We hear much of Chinese overcrowding, but overcrowding is the normal condition of the Chinese, and they do not appear to be inconvenienced by it at all, or in so trifling a degree, that it scarcely deserves mention. If they had an outfit of Anglo-Saxon nerves, they would be as wretched as we frequently suppose them to be. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith,1894]
“The first impression which the traveler receives on visiting the Chinese Empire is that of magnitude. China seems vast, too vast in fact. The same is true of the Asiatic continent. It has been criticized as being in all respects on too large a scale. Its plateaux are too broad, its mountains too high, its rivers too full, its populations too enormous, its famines too devastating.
Professor De Morgan has affirmed that the German language has seven deadly sins — " too many volumes in the language, too many sentences in a volume, too many words in a sentence, too many syllables in a word, too many letters in a syllable, too many strokes in a letter, too much black in a stroke." In like manner, it may be predicated of the Chinese Empire, that it contains too many countries, its countries have too many provinces, its provinces too many prefectures, its prefectures too many districts, its districts too many villages, its villages too many families, and its families too many persons. Its millions teem. Wherever there is a sufficient expanse of water they overflow, and become amphibious not to say aquatic. Wherever there are mountains these millions burrow their way into defiles and recesses, like a worm in an apple. There is one aspect of this density of population, to which we are so accustomed that it fails to impress us, as it might. It is the comparative peaceableness of the Chinese race.
We all of us grow rapidly weary of being stared at by the swarms of curious Chinese who crowd about a foreigner, in 'every spot to which foreigners do not commonly resort. We often declare that We shall "go wild" if we cannot in -some way 'disperse 1 those who are subjecting us to no other injury than that of unsympathetic observation. But to the Chinese, this instinctive feeling of the Occidental is utterly incomprehensible. He does not care how many people see him, nor when, nor for how great a length of time, and he cannot help suspecting that there must be something: wrong about persons who so vehemently resent mere inspection.
Chinese Indifference to Crowds and Noise in the 19th Century
Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: “As soon as the weather becomes cold, the Chinese huddle together as a matter of course, in order to keep warm. Even in the depth of the dog-days, it is not uncommon to see boats loaded with such numbers of passengers that there must be barely room to sit or to lie. No Westerners would tolerate such crowding, yet the Chinese do not appear to mind it. Occidentals like to have their dwellings at a little distance from those of the nearest neighbours, for ventilation and for privacy. The Chinese know nothing either of ventilation or of privacy, and they do not seem to appreciate these conditions when they are realized. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith,1894]
“A Chinese guest at a Chinese inn enjoys the bustle which is concomitant upon the arrival of a long train of carts, and falls asleep as soon as he has bolted his evening meal. His fellow ' traveller from western climes lies awake half the night, listening to the champing of three score mules, varied by kicks and squeals that last as long as he keeps his consciousness. These sounds are alternated by the beating of a hugewooden rattle, and by the yelping of a large force of dogs. It is not uncommon to see as many as fifty donkeys in one inn-yard, and the pandemonium which they occasion at night can be but faintly imagined.
“The Chinese are not unaware, as M. Hue has mentioned, that the braying of this animal can be stopped by suspending a brick to its tail, but repeated enquiries fail to elicit information of a single instance in which the thing has been actually done. The explanation is simply that a Chinese does not particularly care whether fifty donkeys bray singly, simultaneously, or not at all. No Occidental would be likely to remain neutral on such a question. That this feeling is not confined to any particular stratum of the Chinese social scale, might be inferred from the circumstance that the wife of the leading statesman of China had at one time in the vice-regal yamen about one hundred cats!”
Respect for Law in 19th Century China
Smith wrote: “One of the many admirable qualities of the Chinese is their innate respect for law. Whether this element in their character is the effect, of their institutions, or the cause of them, we do not know. But what we do know is, that the Chinese are by nature and by education a law-abiding people. Reference has been already made to this trait in speaking of the national virtue of patience, but it deserves special notice in connection with Chinese theories of mutual responsibility. In China every man, woman and child is directly responsible to some one else, and of this important fact no one for a moment loses sight. Though one should " go far and fly high " he cannot escape, and this he well knows. Even if he should himself escape, his family cannot escape. The certainty of this does not indeed make a bad man good, but it frequently prevents him from becoming ten-fold worse. ' Contrast the Chinese inherent respect for law with the spirit often manifested where republican institutions flourish most, and manifested it must be said by those whose antecedents would least lead us to expect it — college laws, municipal ordinances, state and national enactments, are quietly defied. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith,1894]
It is rightly regarded as one of the most serious indictments against the Chinese transaction of public business of all kinds, that everyone not only connives at acts of dishonesty which it is his duty to prevent and to expose, but that such is the constitution of public and private society that everyone must connive at such acts. But is it less disgraceful that in Christian countries men of education and refinement, as well as the uncultivated, quietly ignore, or deliberately disregard the laws of the land, as if by common consent, and as if it were now a well ascertained fact, that a law is more honoured in the breach than in the observance? It is vain to dogmatize in regard to matters which from the nature of the case are beyond the reach of statistics. Still we must confess to a decided conviction that human life is safer in a Chinese city than in an American city — safer in Peking, than in New York. We believe it to be safer for a foreigner to traverse the interior of China, than for a Chinese to traverse the interior of the United States.
“It is a Chinese tenet that heaven is influenced by the acts and by the spirit of human beings. Upon this principle depends the efficacy of the self-mutilation on behalf of parents, to which reference was made in speaking of filial piety. That this is a correct theory we are not prepared to maintain, yet certain facts deserve mention which might seem to support it.
Mutual Responsibility to One’s Family in 19th Century China
Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: “One of the most distinctive features of Chinese society is that which is epitomized in the word " responsibility." The father is responsible for his son, not merely until the latter attains to "years of discretion," but as long as life lasts, and the son is responsible for his father's debts. The elder brother has a definite responsibility for the younger brother, and the " head of the family" — usually the oldest representative of the oldest generation — has his responsibility for the whole family or clan. What these responsibilities actually are, will depend, however, upon circumstances. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]
The influence of an elder brother over a younger, or indeed of any older member over a younger member of the same family, is of the most direct and positive sort, and is entirely irreconcilable with what we mean by personal liberty. The younger brother is employed as a servant, and wishes to give up his place, but his elder brother will not let him do so. The younger brother wishes to buy a winter garment, but his elder brother thinks the expense is too great, and will not allow him to incur the expense. Even while these remarks are committed to paper, a case is reported in which a Chinese has a number of rare old coins, which a foreigner desir,es to purchase. Lest the owner should refuse to sell — as is the Chinese way, when one happens to have what another wants — the middleman who made the discovery, proposes to the foreigner that he should send to the uncle of the owner of the coins a present of foreign candy and other trifles, by which oblique means such pressure will be brought to bear upon the owner of the coins that he will be obliged to give them up!
There is a burlesque tale of an origin to us unknown, which relates .that a traveller in a Western land once came upon a very old man with a long white beard, who was crying bitterly. Struck with the singularity of this spectacle, the stranger halted and asked the old man what he was crying about, and was surprised to be told that it was because his father had just whipped him! " Where is your father?" "Over there," was the reply. Riding in the direction named, the traveller found a much older man, with a beard much longer and whiter than the other. " Is that your son?” asked the traveller. "Yes, it is." "Did you whip him?" "Yes, I did." ' "Why?" "Because he was saucy to his grandfather, and if he does it again I will whip him some more!" Translated into the conditions of Chinese life, the burlesque disappears.
Mutual Responsibility to One’s Neighbors in 19th Century China
Smith wrote: “Next in order to the responsibility of members of a family for each other, comes the mutual responsibility of neighbours for neighbours. Whether these " neighbours" are or are not related, makes no difference in their responsibility, which depends solely upon proximity. This responsibility is based upon the theory that virtue and vice are contagious. Good neighbours will make good neighbours, and bad neighbours will make others like them. The mother of Mencius removed three times, in order to reach a desirable neighbourhood. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith,1894]
“To an Occidental it seems a matter of little or no consequence who his neighbours are., and if he be a resident of a city he may occupy a dwelling for a year, in ignorance even of the name of the family next door. But in China it is otherwise. If a crime takes place, the neighbours are held guilty of something analogous to what English law calls "misprision of treason," in that when they knew of a criminal intention, they did not report it. It is vain to reply " I did not know." You are a " neighbour,'' and therefore you must have known.
“The proceedings which are taken when the crime of killing a parent has been committed, furnish a striking illustration of the Chinese theory of responsibility. As has been already mentioned in speaking of filial piety, in such instances, the criminal is often alleged to be insane, as indeed, one must be who voluntarily subjects himself to " death by the slicing process," when he might escape it by suicide. In a memorial published in the Peking Gazette a few years since, the governor of one of the central provinces reported in regard to a case of parricide that he had had the houses of all the neighbours pulled down, on the ground of their gross dereliction of duty in not exerting a good moral and reformatory influence over the criminal! Such a proceeding would probably strike an average Chinese as eminently reasonable. In some instances, when this crime has occurred in a district, in addition to all the punishments of persons, the city wall itself is pulled down in parts, or modified in shape, a round corner substituted for a square one, or a gate removed to a new situation, or even closed up altogether. If the crime should be repeated several times in the same district, it is said that the whole city would be razed to the ground, and a new one founded elsewhere, but of this we have met with no certain examples.
Mutual Responsibility to Authorities in 19th Century China
Smith wrote: “Next above the neighbours comes the village constable or bailiff (tirpad), whose functions are of a most miscellaneous nature, sometimes confined to a single village, and sometimes extending to many. In either case he is the medium of communication between the local magistrate and the people, and is always liable to get into trouble from any one of innumerable causes, and may be beaten to a jelly by a captious official, for not reporting what he could not possibly have known. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith,1894]
“At a vast elevation above the village constables, stand the district magistrates, who, so far as the people are concerned, are by far the most important officers in China. As regards the people below them, they are tigers. As regards the officials above them,' they are mice. A single local magistrate combines functions which ought to be distributed among at least six different officers. Many of them have no interest whatever in the business which they despatch, except to extract from it all that it can be made to yield, and from the nature of their miscellaneous and incongruous duties, they are largely dependent upon their secretaries and other subordinates. Having so much to do, even with the best intentions, these officials cannot fail to take numerous mistakes, and many things must go wrong, for which they will be held responsible. The district magistrate is called the chih-hsien, or the one who "knows the district," and like all Chinese officials he is supposed to have an exhaustive acquaintance with everything within his jurisdiction which is an object of knowledge, and an unlimited capacity to prevent what ought to be prevented. To facilitate this knowledge, and that of the local constables, each city' and village is divided into Compound atoms, composed of ten families each. At every door hangs a placard or tablet upon which is inscribed the name of the head of the family, and the number of individuals which it comprises. This system of registration, analogous to the old Saxon tithings and hundreds, makes it easy to fix local responsibility. The moment a suspicious stranger appears in the district comprised in a tithing, he is promptly reported to the head of the tithing by whoever sees him first. By the head of the tithing he is immediately reported to the local constable, and by the local constable to the district magistrate, who at once takes steps "rigorously to seize and severely to punish." By the same simple process all local crimes, not due to " suspicious looking strangers" but to permanent residents, are instantly detected before they have hatched into overt acts, and thus the pure morals of the people are preserved from age to. age.
“The theory of responsibility is carried upwards with unflinching consistency to the son of Heaven himself. It is no unusual thing for the Emperor in published edicts to confess to Heaven his shortcomings, taking upon himself the blame of floods, famines, and revolutionary outbreaks, for which he begs Heaven's forgiveness. His responsibility to Heaven is as real as that of his officers to himself. If the Emperor loses his throne, it is because he has already lost " Heaven's decree," which is presumptively transferred to whoever can hold the Empire.
Chinese-Style Tithing in the 19th Century
Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: ““It is evident that such regulations as these can 'be efficient only in a state of society where fixity of residence is the rule. It is also evident that even in China, where the most extreme form' of permanence of abode is found, the system of tithing is to a large extent a mere legal fiction. Sometimes a city, where no one remembers to have seen them before, suddenly blossoms out with ten-family tablets on every door-post, which indicated the arrival of a district magistrate who intends to enforce the regulations. In some places these tablets are observable in, the winter season. Only, for this is the time when bad characters are most numerous, and most dangerous. But so far as our knowledge extends, the' system as such is little more than a theoretical reminiscence, and' even when observed, it is probably merely a form. Practically, it is not generally observed, and in some provinces at least, one may traved for a thousand miles, and for months together, and not find ten-family tablets posted in more than one per cent, of the cities and villages along the route. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith,1894]
“It may be mentioned in passing, that the Chinese tithing system is intimately connected with the so-called census. If each doorway exhibits an accurate list, constantly' corrected, of the number of persons in each family; if each local constable has accurate copies of the lists of all the tithings within his territory; if each district magistrate has at his disposal accurate summaries of all these items, it is as easy to secure a complete and accurate census of the Empire, as to do a Jong sum in addition, for the whole is equal to the aggregate of all its parts. But these are large ifs, and as a matter of fact, none of the conditions are realized. The tablets are non-existent, and when the local magistrate is occasionally called upon for the totals which should represent them, neither he nor the numerous constables upon whom he is entirely dependent, has the least interest in securing accuracy, which indeed from the nature of the case is difficult. There, is no squeeze to be got from a census, and for this reason alone, a real Chinese census is a mere figment of the imagination. Even in the most enlightened Western lands, the notion that a census means taxation appears to be ineradicable, but in China the suspicion which it excites is so strong, that for this reason alone, unless the tithing system were carried out with uniform faithfulness in all places and at all times, an accurate enumeration would be impossible.
“For a local magistrate to be guilty of all kinds of misdemeanours, for which he gets into no trouble whatever, or getting into it escapes scot free by means of influential friends, or by a judicious expenditure of silver, and yet after all to lose his post on account of something which had happened within his jurisdiction which he could not have prevented, is a constant occurrence.
19th Century Chinese Treatment of Thieves and Memorials
Smith wrote: “How the system of responsibility operates in the domain of all the successive grades of officials, it is unnecessary to illustrate in detail. Multiplied examples may be found in almost every copy of the translations from the Peking Gazette. A case was mentioned a few months ago, where a soldier on guard had stolen some thirty boxes of bullets placed in his care, and sold them to a tinner, who supposed them to be condemned and surplus stores. The soldier was beaten one hundred blows, and banished to the frontiers of the Empire in penal servitude. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith,1894]
A petty officer whose duty it was to inspect the stores, was condemned to eighty blows, and dismissed from the sevice, though allowed to commute his punishment for a money payment. The purchasers of the material were considered innocent of any blame, but were beaten forty blows of the light bamboo, on general principles. The lieutenant in charge was cashiered, in order to be put upon trial for his "connivance," in the theft, but he judiciously disappeared. The Board to which the memorial was addressed was requested to determine the penalty to be inflicted upon the general in command, for his share in the matter. Thus each individual is,a link in a chain, which is followed up to the very end, and no link can escape by pleading ignorance or inability to prevent the crime.
“Still more characteristic examples of Chinese responsibility are furnished by the memorials annually appearing in the Peking Gazette, reporting the outbreak of some irrepressible river. In the case of a flood in the Yung-ting-ho in the province of Chihli [Hebei] during the summer of 1888, the waters came down from the mountains with the velocity of a mill-race. The officials seem to have been promptly on hand, and to have risked their lives in struggling to do what was utterly beyond the powers of man. They were helpless as ants under a rain spout during a summer torrent. But this did not prevent Li Hung-chang from requesting that they should be immediately stripped of their buttons, or deprived of their rank without, being removed from their posts (a favorite mode of expressing Imperial dissatisfaction), and the governor-general consistently concludes his memorial with the usual request that his own name should be sent to the Board of Punishments for the determination of a penalty to be inflicted upon him for his complicity in the affair. In like manner the recent failure of the embankments built to bring back the Yellow River into its old channel, was the signal for the degradation and banishment of a great number of officers,from the governor of the province of Hunan downward.
How Chinese Ideas About Responsibility Thwart Change in 19th Century China
Smith wrote: “The Chinese theory and practice of responsibility has been often cited as one of the .causes of the perpetuity of Chinese institutions. It forges around every member of Chinese society iron fetters from which it is impossible that he should break loose. It constantly violates every principle of justice, by punishing all grades of officers, as well as private individuals, for occurrences in which they had no part, and of which, as in the example just cited, they were not improbably utterly ignorant. It is the direct cause of, deliberate and systematic falsification in all ranks of officiate, from the very lowest to the very highest. It is not in human nature to give truthful reports of events, when, in consequence of such reports, the person who makes them may be severely and unjustly punished. The abuse of this principle alone would suffice to account for a large part of the maladministration of justice in China, to which our attention is so often called. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith,1894]
Still, while we are impressed with flagrant violations of justice, which it involves, it is impossible to be blind to its excellencies. In Western lands where everyone is supposed to be innocent until he is proved to be guilty, it is exceedingly difficult to fix responsibility upon any particular person. A bridge breaks down with a heavy train of cars loaded with passengers, and an investigation fails to find anyone in fault. A lofty building falls, and crushes scores of people, and while the architect is criticized, he shows that he did the best he could with the means at his disposal, and no one ever hears of his being punished. If an ironclad capsize, or a military campaign is ruined because the proper preparations were not made, or not made in time, eloquent speeches set forth the defects of the system which renders such events possible, but no one is punished. The Chinese are far behind usin their conceptions of public justice, but might we not wisely learn again from them the ancient lesson that everyone should be held rigidly responsible for his own acts, in order to the security of the body politic?
The fact that a headman, whatever his position, is "responsible" for any and every act of omission or commission of all his subordinates, exerts over the whole series of links in the chain, a peculiar influence, which has been instinctively appreciated by foreigners in all the long history of their dealings with Chinese. There is a tradition of a head compradore in a bank, who in the "more former days" was called to account, because the "boy" had allowed a mosquito to insinuate himself within the mosquito-net of the bank manager! If the Chinese perceive that a foreigner is ignorant of the responsibilities of his employees, or disregards it, it will not take them long to act upon this discovery in extremely disagreeable ways.
Equality, Rewards and Punishments in 19th Century China
In 1899, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”: “Mencius remarked that the feeling of pity is common to all men, and what was true in his day is no less so now. At the same time there are wide differences in its exhibition. Every Chinese is a seasoned soldier in the warfare of life and is accustomed to every form and grade of misery. His first thought at such a spectacle is not, Cannot something be done about it? but if he has a thought at all it is far more likely to be, Why should I do anything about it? Ages of hereditary experience have taught him not too rashly to indulge in sentimental benevolence which may have disagreeable sequelæ. A Chinese remarked in the writer’s hearing while glancing at the corpse of a man who had died far from home under painful circumstances: “This plaything will be hard to transport.” Of what we call sympathy he had not the smallest conception. A few years later this same individual was seized by the District Magistrate of the county in which he lived, thrust into the standing-cage (a punishment far more horrible than the slicing process, since the victim is conscious but is in a position of acute agony without food or water until he miserably perishes) with no definite charge of any kind against him, and with no trial whatever. The only comment of many of these who had once known him well, was either that it was just what might have been expected, or that it was probably just what he deserved. [Source: “Village Life in China” by Arthur Henderson Smith, Fleming H. Revell Company,1899, The Project Gutenberg]
“The Chinese are firm believers in the doctrine of rewards and punishments. A man who has been conspicuous for his evil deeds will meet no shadow of sympathy when trouble of any sort overtakes him. He is a tiger in a pit. Such an one who was attacked with worm-breeding corrosive ulcers, dragged himself to the terrace of one of the temples of his native village, where he lay sometimes in a coma, and at others screaming with pain. His neighbours would revile him as they passed with the comment: “It is heaven’s vengeance!”
“That aspect of the Chinese doctrine of responsibility which is the most repellent to Western standards of thought, is found in the Oriental practice of extinguishing an entire family for the crime of one of its members. Many instances of this sort were reported in connection with the T'aip'ing rebellion, and more. recently the family of the chieftain Yakub Beg, who led the Muslim rebellion in Turkestan, furnished another. These atrocities are not, however, limited to cases of overt rebellion. In the year 1873 "a Chinese was accused and convicted of having broken open the grave of 'a relative, of the Imperial family, in order to rob the coffin of certain gold, silver and jade ornaments, which had been buried in it. The entire family of the criminal, consisting of four generations, from a man more than ninety years of age to a female infant only a few months old was exterminated. Thus eleven persons suffered death for the offence of one. And there was no evidence to show that any of them were parties to, or were even aware of his crime."
Oppression of the Rich in 19th Century China
Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: “Those who have wealth, especially if they have gained it themselves, are oftener than not deeply marked by the struggles through which they have passed. The world has shown them no favors, and there is no perceptible reason why they should show any favors to the world, while there are very cogent and convincing reasons why they should not do so. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith,1894]
“That figure of speech which likens the permanent moral improvement of the rich man to the progress of a camel through the eye of a needle, when Chinese life is attentively considered turns out to be a sober and mathematically accurate statement. Within three miles of the writer's house lives a wealthy Chinese, who has a pawn-shop and between two and three thousand Chinese acres of land. Yet in the famine year, he not only did nothing ' for the poor of the district out of which he has made his money, but even the hamlet composed of the hovels of those who work his own land contained starving families who were relieved by foreign money, in default of which the poor people must have died. In a region where about ten thousand dollars were distributed from foreign sources in aid of the victims of famine, scarcely an instance was heard of in which the local rich families took any part in alleviating the distress, which was such that it was estimated that on an average one person in every family died either of starvation or of disease. Under these circumstances, it is not strange if the employes of these wealthy families maintain toward them an attitude of secret hostility, seizing every opportunity to do them an injury, when it cannot be traced. A pawn-shop, situated in a village near to the writer's residence, had a wall which was built on the outer edge of the land owned by the firm. On one occasion it became necessary to repair this wall, which could only be done by placing a staging on the land outside, for the use of the masons. The owners of this land refused to allow it to be used for this purpose, and as the pawn-shop, which is the hereditary enemy of the poor, was for once in their power, the managers were compelled to pay a squeeze of about three hundred Mexican dollars for the right to use for a few days a bit of ground, the market value of which was perhaps two dollars.
“It is one of the concomitants of the social solidarity of the Chinese, that any man who has become rich is exposed to the devastating levies of all his relatives, of whom there are invariably an immense horde, and also of his " friends,'' who are in danger of proving to be as numerous and as needy as his relatives. The rnost conspicuous examples of this state of things occur in the southern districts of China, from which the emigration of Chinese to foreign countries chiefly takes place. Each returning emigrant is already weighed in the social balances, and the assessments are soon fixed. By the time he has been plucked for the benefit of relatives and " friends,'' and taxed for the repair of temples, the spirit is so far gone out of him that his main anxiety is to get some; friend to " lend" him a sum sufficient to get Tsack to the foreign land where he came, in order to begin the process of accumulation all over again.
“If a man who has land is unable to till the whole of it himself, his remotest cousins feel authorized to complain, if the work is given to some one else. "One family warm and well fed," says the popular adage, " is the envy of ten others." The writer is acquainted with an elderly man, who has a well-to-do neighbour with, whom he was formerly associated in one of the secret sects so common in China. On asking him about this neighbour, whose house was at a little distance from his own, it turned out that the two men who had grown up together, and had passed more than sixty years in proximity, never met. " And why was this?” " Because the other man is getting old, and does not go out much.'' "Why, then, do you not sometimes go to see him, and talk over old times. Are you not on good terms?" The person addressed smiled the smile of conscious superiority, and shook his head. "Yes,'' he said, "we are on good terms enough, but he is well off, and I am poor, and if I were to go there it would make talk. Folks would say, What is he coming here for."
Last updated October 2021