Page:The Chinese Empire. A General & Missionary Survey.djvu/329

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255
THE PEOVINCE OF KWEICHOW

diction to settle minor law cases; but all serious cases are tried by the Chinese magistrate. These headmen are also responsible for the collection of the land tax. Thus it appears to us they are ruled exactly the same as the Chinese living in villages and hamlets. Probably on account of their ignorance, and the lack of men having literary degrees among them which would give them the privilege of interviewing the magistrate, they are more squeezed than the Chinese. But the Chinese yamen runner is a functionary of proved impartiality! eager to extort money from anybody and everybody he can get into his clutches.

The Miao have no written language. This is a very remarkable fact, if we bear in mind that the Chinese have cultivated literature for three thousand years, and these people have been their neighbours, and some of them their near neighbours, for all this length of time. The two races, though often contending, have not always been in arms one against another; there has always been some intercourse between them. Moreover, the Miao language, like Chinese, is monosyllabic, unencumbered with conjugations, declensions, or other inflections, and it would be easy to represent Miao words by Chinese characters, which are not phonetic but ideographic. At the present time there are schools in many of the Miao villages where Chinese literature is taught. Probably from earliest times there have been some Miao who could read Chinese, and yet not one of them, as far as we know, ever attempted to write down their own language. If the attempt ever was made, it evidently met with no acceptance among the tribesmen, who remain to-day as illiterate as their ancestors three thousand years ago. What writing they have to do must be done for them in Chinese. All their contracts, mortgages, and deeds of sale or rental are written in Chinese, and probably not one in a hundred of them, when he buys a piece of land, is able to read the deed of sale when it is written.

But if the Miao have no literature, they have plenty of legends[1] handed down from earlier times. Who composed

  1. See p. 270.