Page:Inside Canton.djvu/156

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155
INSIDE CANTON.

sequently, everything affords matter for controversy, and I have been present at interminable polemic contests concerning the number of the floating population of the Tchou-kiang. Some made this population mount up to a fabulous number; others, on the contrary, asserted it did not surpass that of our third-class towns. Those who maintained this last opinion, were, generally speaking, strong-minded personages, avowed opponents of the Jesuit fathers, and of all the works the latter have produced, no matter whether the books were mystical or scientific. Now, the learned propagandists having, in their works, extolled the manners, government, and size of Chinese cities, their antagonists consider it a philosophical duty to deny, without investigation, everything thus advanced. I confess I never took a part in these warm discussions, reserving the right of setting myself up, for myself, as the judge of the debate. In questions of this kind, I have a peculiar method of arriving at a knowledge of the truth: I simply consult public opinion, especially that of the vulgar. Therefore, addressing A-Moun, I said to her:—

"You are a learned person; could you inform me what is the number of the inhabitants of the floating city?"

At this question the beautiful boat-girl burst out into a loud fit of laughter, and her hand let go one

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