Page:Inside Canton.djvu/225

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lous stories about China and the Chinese; but that pastime should, I fancy, be forbidden to serious travelers. It is extremely well observed by Sir John Davis, that "all the assertions put forth concerning the difficulties of the Chinese characters, from their number and variety, are the exaggerations of ignorance."

Writing being, in the eyes of a Chinaman, the highest expression of civilisation, it is the object of a sort of worship. Often masons, journeymen, demolishing a house, will pause over some portion of the wall covered with hieroglyphic characters, and go through certain religious ceremonies, before they obliterate them. In all respectable houses there is a little white portable stove, of an octagonal shape, on which is inscribed, in red letters, "Have pity on the written paper!" When a child or a servant finds a stray leaf or a torn book, it is brought to be burned with pious care upon this altar consecrated to the Ingenious Art. There may be something puerile in this superstition, to our judgments, but it is based upon creditable feelings; it is the simple expression of the admiration of the Chinese for literary superiority.

Here the "album," that refuge of small celebrities, is not known, but the fan supplies its place. It is customary, in social intercourse with respectable people, to offer them a paper fan, whose folds are covered with sentences or verses. In this case the present itself must be of extreme simplicity, to