Saturday, 20 February 2016

7 February 1880 - 'Peculiarities of the Chinese'

It feels like a while since we've had some good old Victorian racism, so here it is. 
We have received the following from a resident of Nankin, China -

"I am sure you will need no proof that the Chinese are peculiar people, as this is universally known and acknowledged, but as many of those things in which they are peculiar are not generally known, I venture to mention some of their customs in social and commercial life, and contrast them with our own. As their religions are far more ignorant, superstitious and sinful than eccentric, I shall not speak much about them now.

The Chinese begin to read their books where we end ours; they read down the page, we read across the page; they read from right to left, we from left to right. They direct their letters, writing first the province, then the city, then street or house, and last of all the name; we direct first the name, then house, street, town, and last of all, the country, In the language the Chinese have characters many and sounds few; in England we have letters few and sounds many. They believe the heart is the seat of the intellect, that it thinks, perceives, understands, etc., and that the brain is nothing of importance.

The needle of the compass necessarily points to the north, but they take the other end of the compass, and call it pointing to the south. In England we would say north-east and south-west; but the Chinese say east-north and west-south. We speak of a person's name as Mr Taylor; they say Tai Sien-sing, which represents Taylor Mr. We say James Taylor; they say Tai Ya-koh, which is equivalent to Taylor James. We write with a pen, they write with a brush; we hold ours slanting, they use their perpendicular; when we have finished writing we wipe our pen before laying it aside, they dip theirs in the ink.

The Chinese seat of honour is on the left side, ours is on the right. In England we sit down in boats to row, they stand; we pull, they push we sit with our backs towards the place we are going, they face the way.

They are not permitted to grow a moustache until they are thirty years of age, nor a beard until they are forty; we of course cultivate ours as soon as we can get them. The majority of women have their feet cramped when they are children, the length of the small feet varied from three inches to six. Children's heads, both boys' and girls', are entirely shaved  for the first time when they are about a month old, this is the occasion of great grief to the little one, and there is, as a rule, a "general row in the house". This shaving is continued until they are about eight to twelve years of age, when the hair is permitted to grow.

Chinese mandarins, scholars, and gentlemen allow their nails to grow, frequently to a length of two or three inches, they prize them and love to sport them as much as any young man at home does his first ring; their reason for thus allowing their nails to grow is that they wish to be thought gentlemen who never do any manual labour, nor carry any bags, etc. How much more gentlemanly would it be if they were to help some old man to push his barrow up a hill sometimes!

The Chinese naturally are far from being an enterprising nation. "As their fathers did, so do they". They think none wiser than their fathers, so they seek no improvements. But foreign influence is beginning to tell, even in this respect, to make the people a little speculative. To call a man "old" is a compliment to a Chinaman, but at home it would in nine times out of ten be deemed an insult. The Chinese claps their own hands and bow; we grasp the hand of a friend and shake. They administer medicine in large quantities, supposing that the more the patient drinks the better he will be. Occasionally, persons are killed in this way. Some cases have come under the notice of our missionaries, such as where the patient has had dropsy, or where the body has been filled with water, and his faithful wife has been diligently engaged in pouring down his throat as much liquid medicine as possible, until the poor man's death was not only hastened but was caused by the bursting open of his flesh to discharge the water of his overfilled body. The people are  for the most part kind to animals and never like to kill them, not even for food; if they die, all very well, they might cut up the flesh and eat it, but never take its life away.

Some, however, think that to kill very old beasts may be permissible, but not when they are young and able to work; but the Mahomedan Chinese eat beef, mutton, etc, and kill good beasts, so through them we stand some chance of getting meat occasionally. Beggars abound, but they are treated kindly, and I must say this of the Chinese, that I have never seen a beggar turned away receiving nothing.

White is the common colour worn at funerals, and red at weddings. During a time of mourning for a relative, we wear black on the hat, they wear white on their boots and in their cue.

When the father of a mandarin dies, the son has to mourn him for three years, during which time he must do no official work, not wear any stylish dress, nor enjoy any worldly pleasure. Married women have no Christian name. Suppose one be Mrs Wang, that be her entire name. They are unfortunately treated everywhere very shabbily. A wife does not walk here side by side with her husband, but she must walk behind, go in last, sit in the lowest place, nor speak, etc. Oh! How thankful we should be  for the light of the Gospel, and how grateful women in England ought to be, and not cry out about their "rights". In England, in making the marriage arrangements, one generally wants a nice wife with some money but here, of all things most inconvenient, one has to pay for his wife. My teacher tells me that a good wife can be procured at Nankin for about 500 to 700 dollars, equal to £100 and  £140. It seems to be similar to poor Jacob, who had to give Laban seven years' labour for each of his wives, because he had no wealth of his own with which to purchase them.

In wedding ceremonies the light of a lamp or candle, although in broad daylight, is considered able to keep away all evil spirits. One of the female assistants (we should say bridesmaids) at the wedding partially fills two cups with a mixture of wine and honey. She then pours their contents back and forth several times from one to the other, when both the bridegroom and bride sip out of each cup. After being married, the bride's veil is taken from her, and it is often the first time that the bridegroom has seen the face of his wife. At the wedding dinner he eats as much as he likes, but she must not touch a morsel. In the evening the newly-made wife has to stand while a company of spectators observes her appearance and criticises her deportment. The first night they have two candles burning in their room - one is marked with a dragon to represent the man, the other with a phoenix  for the wife. If one or both of these candles should be blown out by any means, they would regard it as an omen indicating the early death of one or both of the parties. If the tallow ran down the candles it would be thought to resemble tears flowing down the cheeks - that they would have sorrow, or that they would not live happily together. If the candles should burn out about the same time, it is supposed the couple will die about the same time in the future, and should one burn much longer than the other it is inferred one will survive the other.

The Chinese are particularly superstitious. They regard the owl as the harbinger of death; it is spoken of as a devil under the guise of a bird, or as a constable from the dark land.


  1. "Oh! How thankful we should be for the light of the Gospel, and how grateful women in England ought to be, and not cry out about their "rights"." (Look how much worse women have it in China!)

  2. Also "The Chinese naturally are far from being an enterprising nation" - um, so I guess the Four Great Inventions invented themselves then? The article even MENTIONS the compass! XD