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RECENT LITERATURE IN CHINA.”
ALL competent observers have united in paying a high tribute to the intellectual capabilities of the Chinese, and their regard for culture and education. It has even been asserted on high authority that, before compulsory education was introduced, there were as many people who could read and write in China as there were amongst ourselves. There is no doubt that education of a certain sort is very widely diffused amongst the people, and that they attach almost a higher value to learning than we do. Not only are schools established by the Government in all the large towns, but free day-schools are to be found throughout the Empire, thus bringing the means of education within the reach of all classes. It has been truly said that China is a land of schools and of scholars, as also of books, from the smallest pamphlet to the most voluminous encyclopedia. And some idea of the vast extent of the native literature may be gathered from the fact that a digest of the published works, ranging from the twelfth century to the end of the seventeenth, occupies more than five thousand pages. A copy of this encyclopedia, obtained through the energy of the late Chinese Secretary of the British Embassy at Peking, is now one of the treasures of the British Museum. As regards the influence of this literature, it is worthy of note that the written or “Book Language” of China is understood by the educated, not only of the whole Chinese Empire, but of Japan, Loo-choo, Manchuria, and Cochin-China, and through it a larger proportion of the human race can be reached than through any other language in the world. But while much of the native literature is worthy of the highest admiration, and affords evidence of the great mental capabilities of the people, a great deal is absolutely worthless, and altogether unsuited to the requirements of an empire which, so far as extent of territory and population are concerned, has no equals in the world. The whole range of native literature presents an absolute blank in many departments of thought; while the absence, up to within recent times, of any reliable works on general history, geography, and the modern * It need scarcely be observed that no pretence is made in this article to give a complete list of foreign publications in China. The impossibility of obtaining full and sciences, account for the extraordinary ignorance displayed by the most distinguished native scholars in regard to facts which are familiar to the smallest Board-school boy in England. It is this deficiency which foreigners are earnestly endeavouring to remedy. First as to newspapers. Until of late years the Chinese have been without newspapers or periodicals. The Government organ, called the Peking Gazette, although the oldest publication of the kind in the world, is, at the same time, the most useless, containing merely such memorials and imperial effusions as it is the interest of the Government to publish for the information of the literary and official classes. Such a paper is absolutely worthless to the masses, who live on, year after year, in the grossest ignorance of even their own country, to say nothing of foreign lands and foreigners generally. Of late years, however, steps have been taken to meet what might be called “a long-felt want.” A few enterprising foreigners, as well as certain native officials of high rank, have been the means of starting Chinese newspapers both in Shanghai and Hong Kong, which are rapidly increasing both in popularity and circulation; so much so, indeed, that the Chinese can now boast of at least five daily newspapers, while the number of weekly and monthly periodicals is considerable. A few words as to the Peking Gazette, or “Court Circular.” This venerable organ is interesting to foreigners rather on account of its antiquity than of the matter contained. It was first mentioned in the early part of the eighth century, and was then a written circular. The date of transition to block-printing is uncertain, although we know that the art of printing was practised in China before it was invented in Europe. The journal has recently taken a new lease of life, and is now published in three editions. The first, called the King-Paou, is printed on yellow paper, and constitutes the official gazette of the Empire. The second, the Hsing-Paou (Commercial Journal), contains information relating to trade, and is also printed upon yellow paper. The third, Pitau-Paou (Provincial Journal), is printed on red paper, and consists of extracts from the other two editions. The total circulation of the three issues is about fifteen thousand copies, and the editorship is confided to a committee of six members of the Academy of Han-lin. That the application of mechanics to the arts and sciences possesses some interest to the Government of China is evident from the fact that a few years ago the Official Gazette was the medium for imparting to the world, by means of an Imperial decree, the startling announcement of the discovery of perpetual motion by a sub-prefect named Tung ! In the words of the decree, this inventive genius “proposed to construct a WOL. X. 8
accurate data from busy workers of all nationalities scattered through the length and breadth of this vast empire must be obvious.
steamboat to be impelled by steam generated without the use of fire,” and certain high officials were directed “to devise the means for providing the 3,000 taels required to carry the invention into execution.” As nothing more has been heard of Mr. Tung's discovery, we fear it must have shared the fate of other attempts in the same direction. Of the papers started under the direction of foreigners, the leading place is occupied by the Shen-Pao, or Shanghai Gazette, which had reached a circulation of 10,000 copies daily in 1882. Most of the articles are now written by natives, and the paper has distinguished itself by the way in which it has exposed official abuses, and denounced the use of torture. It is even said to have succeeded in obtaining the revocation of unjust decrees issued by provincial governors. At the time of the opening of the Kaiping mines, near Peking, this journal contained several very able leading articles in which the advantages likely to result from, as well as the objections which had been raised against, coal-mining were fully discussed. On another occasion some articles appeared from the pen of a native on the subject of Female Education, in which the writer went through the history of the subject in China, and argued strongly in favour of its extension at the present day. While another article was on the subject of foot-binding, a practice the writer severely condemned. From what has been stated it will be felt that Dr. Edkins was quite justified in speaking of the contributions of native writers as “displaying a liberal and reforming spirit.” According to a wellinformed writer in the Times, the paper “during the brief twelve years of its existence has shown the way to many reforms, and by means of its ability and independence has acquired, for China, an enormous circulation, and attained to a position of real influence unequalled by any other paper, native or foreign, in the ‘Far East.’” So great is its reputation, that, if report is true, it penetrates to the sacred precincts of the Imperial Palace, and is even read in secret by the Empress-Regent. The success achieved by the Shen-Pao induced certain high officials to start a rival paper called the Sing-Pao. But whether it is that the natives do not care to have foreign matters presented to their gaze through official glasses, or, what is more probable, that they do not care to support anything managed by the class they most dread—the Mandarins—this paper has never attained any great circulation. A variety of subjects are treated in this paper; foreign appliances and inventions are brought under notice, and foreigners are always alluded to in respectful terms. But, of course, the officials are careful of their own reputation, and take a full share of credit for improvements that have been introduced, as tending to show the care with which they watch over their subjects’ interests. In an article on “Dredging Machines,” for example, after pointing out the advantages to be derived from their use in deepening the irrigation canals, the writer thus sums up : “The fields will be filled with labourers, traders will be able to travel to and fro; the people will warble from sheer contentment, and everybody will benefit from the bounteous care of Government.” Of the native papers published in Hong Kong the Chauwan Yat Po, or Universal Circulating Herald is worthy of mention for its vigorous attacks on official abuses. Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities with the French last spring, the enterprising proprietors of the Shen-Pao started an illustrated paper called the Shanghai Illustrated News, one of the illustrations from which, supposed to represent the bombardment of Keelung, appeared in the English Illustrated London News. The drawings for this paper are first of all executed on a large scale by native artists in ink, and then lithographed on a reduced scale. The Chinese are extremely fond of pictures, and travellers in the interior have sometimes come across portions of European illustrated papers which are treated with as much care as if they were heirlooms; hence it is not surprising to hear that the Shanghai Illustrated News has already attained a large circulation. Of the magazines the most important are:–1. The Scientific Magazine, edited at the Chinese Polytechnic institution, Shanghai; a monthly publication devoted to scientific matter, and subjects of general interest, and the principal medium through which foreign advertisements are conveyed to the Chinese. The circulation is considerable, and it is financially successful. 2. The Globe Magazine, a weekly journal edited at Shanghai, with a circulation of many thousands. This was formerly a religious publication, but, the Christian community not being large enough to make it selfsupporting, it was altered to its present shape, and now pays well. 3. The Monthly Educator, a Chinese Leisure Hour, edited by missionaries. There are now at least seven magazines edited by members of the missionary body, but the Globe Magazine and the Scientific Magazine are especially worthy of mention.* They find their way into the hands of many literary men and Mandarins, and do great good by helping to create a friendly feeling towards foreigners. Most of the articles are contributed by missionaries, and there is no doubt, as was remarked by one of the veteran missionaries in China, Dr. Edkins, that these gentlemen, “will promote the enlightenment of China and pave the way for Christianity by writing in these journals on subjects which will open the native mind to the facts of western civilization, and the deficiencies in the condition of the people of China.” As a matter of fact, the creation of a literature adapted to the wants of the people has been mainly the work of missionaries. Their labours have been immense, and, although directed mostly towards the production of a distinctly Christian literature, Roman Catholics and Protestants alike have exerted themselves nobly in the diffusion of general knowledge. The Nestorians, who first introduced Christianity into China, some time before the seventh century, are said to have created a literature, while some of the books compiled by the Jewish missionaries are still extant. But by far the most important productions date from the arrival of the Jesuits in the sixteenth and seventeenth century; and all honour is due to them for the efforts they have made to enlighten the people, and to clear away the absurd superstitions which still encumber their minds. They compiled works on astronomy and mathematics besides other subjects; and many of these showed marked ability, were received with great favour by the literati of the period, and even considered worthy of being placed on the catalogue of the Emperor KienLung's library. In a report made some two centuries ago, it is stated that the number of books compiled during ninety-three years, concerning the Christian religion, the sciences, and other subjects, was over five hundred volumes, besides MSS. And yet the earth still occupies the centre of the universe in the official text books Maps are published even now, in which China is shown as the “Middle Kingdom,” with islands dotted round to represent the countries of the “barbarians !” While in others, professing to embody recent geographical discoveries, the African continent is ethnologically divided between “Black Devils,” “Jabbering curly-haired Devils,” and “Straight-haired Black Devils.” But for “light science,” for the masses, commend us to the “Imperial Almanack.” This is unquestionably one of the most remarkable “official" publications extant. It is prepared by a special committee appointed by the Emperor, and may be roughly described as a potpouri of Science and superstition. Amongst other curious things is a table of lucky and unlucky days; and although the Jesuit Fathers were authorized to regulate the astronomical part of the work, they were strictly forbidden to meddle with this table. The fun of the book reaches a climax in the “Book of Rites,” a few extracts from which, relating to the months of the year, will show that the “evolutionary theory” is accepted more frankly by Chinese scholars than it is amongst ourselves. In the third month “mice are transformed into pigeons, and rainbows are first seen l’’
* Since these lines were penned, the writer has heard with regret that both these magazines have ceased to appear.