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The greatest portion of the trade of China is carried on between the different provinces (pp. 31-40), but there is also a considerable foreign commerce, though nothing like there might be under more enlightened rulers. For instance, in 1877, the last year for which we have full returns, the imports were valued at 73,253,170 taëls, and the exports at 67,445,022 taëls, of which the great proportion went to Great Britain, either direct, or to our colony of Hong Kong, which in time will be an entrepôt for British goods, to be scattered thence throughout the length and breadth of China. The East Indies also took and sent a very considerable quantity of goods, but the commerce with all other countries,
including Russia, vid Kiakhta, in Siberia (p. 13), was comparatively small. Indeed, it may be said that over three-fourths of the foreign trade of China are with Britain and her dependencies, the vast proportion of this traffic going on through the port of Shanghai, and consisting, on the one hand, of importations of opium, cotton, woollen fabrics, and metals, and on the other hand of the export of teas, silks, and sugar, in addition to miscellaneous articles. It may be added that more than one-half of this merchandise is carried in British ships, and a little more than one-fifth in those of the United States. In China railways have yet to be built. An experimental line was opened between Shanghai and Wouscng in 1876, but next year the Government ordered it to be torn up. The posts are carried through the empire either on foot or by carriers with relays of horses. Telegraphs are beginning to be tolerated, but as yet there are only a few short and unimportant lines, merely for the use of the Government, who, however, still prefer to use the 20,000 imperial roads which the Chinese boast as permeating the empire, though, as has already been pointed out, they maintain them in a wretched state. The experimental line of railway laid down was torn up, not because the Government considered it useless or on account of the people declining to patronise it, but simply because the people patronised
it too well. Its success raised fears in the official mind that if it were allowed to go on there would be a difficulty in keeping the hated foreigners out of the interior, and that in addition, if they once allowed them to establish railways they would acquire a hold on the soil which might in the end produce complications fatal to the peace of the empire.
So the Mandarins tore up the rails of the Shanghai and Wousong railway, and forced the people, who during its brief career crowded the carriages, to travel between the two towns as their fathers had done from times beyond which the mythical records of China runneth not.
One Chinese trading town is so very much like another, that the graphic description which Mr. Thomson gives of one will apply to almost all of them. The first impression which one of these cities gives when looked down upon is that of an immense mass of roofs, the intervals between the rows of the houses being so narrow, and the projecting eaves so broad, that a bird's-eye view fails to reveal the presence of streets at all. A closer inspection shows that these are exceedingly narrow, but crooked, and that the houses are huddled so closely together that fresh air can only be got—and then merely from a comparative point of view—by climbing to the roof. This is accordingly in most Chinese houses a common place of reunion, decked with flowers and furnished with seats. Here also along the sides of the flat space are arranged great jars of water, to aid in extinguishing fire, for even did fire-engines exist, the tortuous ways would not permit of their being brought to bear upon the flames. In order also to further prevent conflagrations spreading among the densely huddled-up masses of flimsy Chinese houses, here and there .strong dividing fire-walls are built, thus separating the buildings into blocks. If a determined fire breaks out, the cardboard-like buildings within the limits of the fire-walls usually go, but the chances are it will stop there. Yet the Chinese crowd together for sociality rather than from necessity, for often in the middle of the densely-packed cities there are large open spaces which might be devoted to buildings instead of to agricultural purposes. But though many Chinese cities are surrounded by strong walls, pierced by triple gates, yet in the streets outside the ramparts the buildings display the same arrangement as in the more crowded spaces within, the fact being that the frugal Chinaman considers house-rent the smallest part of his expenses, and is very careless about the blessings of fresh air and breathing space.
It is indeed wonderful to see the :space into which a Chinese family will cram itself. The monotonous mass of roofs would give most Chinese towns a most prosaic appearance when seen from above, were it not for the break in the level supplied by pagodas, yamens, or official residences, temples, guild-houses, and in the southern provinces the square towers of the pawnbrokers' establishments towering above the others. Some of the Chinese bridges (Plate XLI.) are masterpieces of architecture, and many of them, as was formerly the case in Europe, are lined on either side with shops and private houses, so that only a narrow path is left open for passengers. The streets themselves are particularly unsavoury. Bad drainage blends its typhoid odour with those of charcoal, garlic, oil, opium, and tobacco ; while the lower classes are, contrary to the rule of the rural Chinese, in most instances sadly in need of a bath. The shopkeepers, however, look rosy, contented, and prosperous, and many of them live to a good old age, and rather pity their confrères in the broad streets of Pekin (p. 44) and Nankin, in so far that they suffer more from the hot summers than do the tradesmen, ensconsed behind their counters in these shady alleys, into which the rays of the sun so rarely reach. There are, of course, as in Europe and America, more private streets, inhabited by rich merchants, who, however, usually live above their shops, and in the suburbs the villas of “retired people.” But though a Chinaman, after his own fashion, loves to be comfortable, he does not care for ostentation, and a visitor whose ideas have been moulded on the habits of the newer world would never suspect that the establishment he has entered was owned by a man who would even in the rich cities of the Western Hemisphere be thought wealthy. China is the “Flowery Land” of its poets, but the stranger who has not the entrée to a Sinetic paradise would scarcely coincide in the justice of this eulogistic phrase. All he sees from the outside as he walks through the suburbs is a high wall, which is in its way as much intended to shut out from prying eyes the preserve in which the rich Chinaman has ensconsed himself, his wives, and daughters, as the high wall or palisades were to keep out of the Middle Kingdom the Tartar barbarians who now rule it. Climb a hill overlooking one of the typical Chinese towns, and the curious traveller may have an opportunity of seeing from above what he fails to observe from below. “ There is a tiny landscape garden, with model bridges and model mountains, wherein dwell the blessed genii; living fish in little pools, just as in the ocean and rivers ; rocks and chasms like the weird peaks, and gorges of W00-e Hills; shady nooks beneath bending bamboos, where the ladies may bask in the smile of their lord when he is in the mood for their attentions. Here and there miniature pagodas and temples occur, or sometimes a real shrine, dedicated to the worship of the ancestors of the family. Food in abundance from unknown sources, rich and costly raiment to put on, paint to bring back the hues of health to the cheek which has shrivelled and faded even in this earthly paradise; above all, a living Chinaman to love and worship (or to hate, as the humour suits them)—what more can want?" This, Mr. Thomson remarks, is to the Chinaman's mind “the perfection of human abode, the result of four thousand years' civilisation.” In all that period it is questionable whether Chinese life-and, above all, Chinese rural life—has changed, for the descriptions of the oldest writers would apply equally well to the village routine of to-day. Indeed, rural life in China is very pleasant as things go in that part of Cathay, where a cycle of years is as a decade in Europe. The people are less exclusive, and the wealthy Chinaman does not think of barring out by walls his household gods from the glare of his neighbours, when he is all but certain that the “foreign devil ” is not likely to be among them. In the cities the paternal care of the rulers, even when well disposed towards the people, cannot always reach the poorest of the governed. The mandarin may be a just man, who has not knowingly oppressed a single individual, but yet, owing to the rapine and villainy of his subordinates, he may leave his seat of government with the curses of the robbed people following him. But in a village, often the only authority the people know is the patriarch or headman of the "tribe,” who is responsible to the mandarin for his conduct, and for the content of the people whose happiness accordingly, for his own interest, if for no higher motive, he strives to secure. The magnates of the village are some wiseacres possessed of greater knowledge than their neighbours, or who have the art of making them believe they are endowed with it, the man, whitehaired it may be, who has passed some examination in the great competitive tournaments of the Chinese literati, or, in default of the village being honoured with such a prodigy, the local schoolmaster. The pedadogue may not perhaps possess any degree, but he can always explain, to the perfect satisfaction of his neighbours, that it was solely through the jealousy of
the Hanlin College and the literati, who dreaded his presence among them, that long ago he had not been called to the councils of the Emperor at Pekin. The schoolmaster might, perhaps, if he cared, tell his neighbours who are the rulers of the land, but as the information would not make the rice grow better, or the pigs farrow more abundantly, village China is not very particularly interested in listening to such recondite bits of politics. It is enough for them that Ah. Sam is their headman: and happy are the rustics who are not compelled to know more. This village life is really the best part of China, and the secret of how for four thousand years—perhaps longer—the nation has proved true to its old conditions, and remained, take it all in all, peaceable and contented, if not happy and prosperous.
There are, as might be expected, occasional feuds in the village. The elders, or old men, are apt to presume on their time-honoured privileges, one of the chief of which is to occupy the best seats at any feast, no matter whether they are invited or not, and to exact what is, indeed, never disputed, the deference due to their threescore and ten years. The matrons wrangle and the gossips are busy, but jealousy, heart-burning, and the ambition to do much more than live by daily toil, is not markedly seen in rural China. In one or two of the southern provinces, or in parts of those provinces, village feuds were formerly very
Two villages went to war with each other, the combatants being in reality hired bandits or bravoes, who robbed the side they were paid to oppose, carried off their women, and captured the men, in order to torture and maltreat them.
These vendettas would often go on until the parties engaged were utterly exhausted and the Imperial Government found it impossible to collect the taxes. Then, and not until then, it interfered, though the villagers, indeed, dreaded the exactions of the Pekin soldiers much more than they did the robbery of the banditti, and accordingly, at the first news of their advantage, flew to the mountains with what goods they could carry. In the end the robber chiefs were subdued, not by force of arms, but by bribes of money and titles bestowed by the central authorities, until in due time they found it convenient to transfer their services to another part of the country. Such disorderly scenes were, however, solely local, and occurred in those parts of the country which were far removed from the capital, imperial or provincial, and had been disorganised by rebellions or similar disturbances. The province of Quan-tung was long notorious for such raids, and is yet, especially in the vicinity of the mountain passes. The better kind of farm-houses and the residences of the gentry (pp. 41, 57) are built in the form of a rectangle, the walls of which, made of earth, lime, and sand, are often pierced with loopholes for musketry, and protected at each of the four corners with a turret or bastion, from which the defenders can sweep the entire sides and ends of the enclosure. Inside are placed the dwelling-house of the owner and the other buildings belonging to the farm. The villages in the quieter parts of the country are generally embowered in banyan or other trees, and over the entrance gate to the village ancestral hall is often placed a notice warning all whom it concerns not to injure the trees or shoot the birds roosting in them, as they "exercise a good geomantic influence over the village and the adjacent rice plains.” It may be added, for the encouragement of future travellers who wish to see the interior of China, that Mr. McCarthy, who two years ago journeyed from Chin-kiang to Bhamo, found everywhere