Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China/Ceremonies and Customs of the Chinese

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By S. W. Tso, of Hongkong.

FROM the cradle onwards the Chinese are surrounded by social customs and religious observances so interwoven as to be almost indistinguishable. When a child is born the ceremony of bathing the baby lakes place on the third day. According to Chinese reckoning, this may be after a lapse of anything from twenty-five to forty-nine hours, for any portion of a day counts as a day which the child has seen. Age is reckoned in the same way. Thus, a child born on December 31st would be two years of age on the following day, for he would have lived in two years. The method of calculation is similar to that followed in regard to English race-horses.


The bathing is followed on the twelfth day by another ceremony, but the most important of these early functions is that which takes place one Chinese moon, or lunar month, from the date of birth. The infant is then considered to have attained a position in the family, and becomes recognised as a permanent member; a child dying before that age is scarcely given a name. The full-moon festival is one of great rejoicing, especially in the case of an eldest male child. Friends send presents to the parents for the child, and the parents, in return, invite their friends to a feast or dinner, and introduce to them the new member of the family. It must be borne in mind that this remark applies more especially to male children, for, although nowadays in Hongkong and some of the larger coast ports a female child usually receives some recognition, in the interior of China little notice is taken of girls, except occasionally when the firstborn is a female. It may here be mentioned that the practice of binding the feet of girls, in accordance with a distorted notion of beauty, is gradually dying out, the Empress of China having expressed her strong disapproval of the custom.



A Chinaman may have five names or more. One name is given to him in childhood by the father; another by his teacher when he is old enough to go to school; a third he adopts for the convenience of his friends when he arrives at manhood; and a fourth at marriage. This last is the name by which he is registered in the ancestral hall, or temple devoted to ancestral worship. Should he become an officer in the employment of the Government he will receive an official name, which may be one of the names by which he has been known formerly, or may be a new name altogether. In China a business is generally carried on under a name different from that of the proprietor, but in Hongkong this custom is falling into desuetude, and not infrequently now a man employs his own name in the designation of his premises.

Girls generally have only two names — one a maiden name, or "milk-name," as it may be more literally rendered from the Chinese ; the other a school name. Upon her marriage a girl places the surname of her husband before her own, so that, to anglicise an illustration, if a Miss Adam married a Mr. Smith, she would become Mrs. Smith-Adam. Children receive the father's surname, or, more properly speaking, the surname of the father's family or clan. In all Chinese names the surname is written first, and is followed by the individual names, as in an alphabetical directory. A similar arrangement is followed in addressing letters — the province is written first, followed by the town, street, and number or name of the house, and, last of all, the surname and name of the individual.


A small ceremony characterises the first entrance of a Chinese boy of the upper and middle classes to school. It begins with a form of religious worship, viz., the worship of Confucius and Wun Chang, the god of literature. A "school fee" is paid to the teacher who imparts the first lesson to the pupil, a dinner is generally given to celebrate the event, and the child receives his "school name."

Formerly the aim of all study was the passing of State examinations, in which a series of degrees were conferred for literature and composition, but these examinations are rapidly being done away with throughout China, for it is becoming recognised that a knowledge of the classics or the ability to write elegant composition does not by itself fit a man to occupy a high position in the State or in the commercial world. Gradually the superior advantages of Western education are becoming recognised, more especially in official circles. Students are satisfied now with one of the minor degrees, and, after passing the first degree, are only examined once more if they obtain a diploma from a foreign university or acquire a profession abroad. This second examination takes place in Peking, and the student receives rank and office according lo the proficiency he displays. Girls are taught at school just as much as is necessary to fit them for their social station in life. When they are small children they attend the same school as the boys, but at the age of about eleven or twelve they are, as a rule, withdrawn from the society of boys. At that age the path of study for the two sexes begins to diverge; boys continue to attend school and pursue a higher course of study for State examinations, while girls remain at home, probably under a governess, and learn, in addition, those domestic accomplishments necessary to qualify them for the management of their future households. When grown-up girls form their own society of girl friends, so accustomed are they to the exclusive association of their own sex that it becomes a habit, as well as a rule of etiquette, among them to abstain from the society of the other sex. So strictly is this rule adhered to that no young girl at the marriageable age would ever see a young man unless he be either a brother or cousin. Even her intended husband would be denied an interview.



In China a marriage is the outcome of negotiations between the parents, through the instrumentality of a middleman, and it frequently happens that the young people do not see each other until the wedding actually takes place. In Hongkong and the outports the prospective bridegroom is sometimes allowed to see his future wife or a photograph of her. The girl, however, is rarely allowed a similar privilege ; indeed, she is seldom even told who has been selected as her future husband. The middleman, who receives fees for his services, is recognised as a witness to the contract, and is held responsible in any dispute which may subsequently arise in regard to the marriage. He goes to the parents of the prospective bridegroom and hands them a piece of red paper — red being the Chinese lucky colour — on which are written various particulars, such as the date of the girl's birth, her position in the family — eldest, second, or third daughter, and so on — together with the names of her parents and of their native place. The girl is then seen by the mother and other female relatives of the young man, and if they are favourably impressed with her they send a similar piece of paper containing their son's name, date of birth, &c., to her family with an intimation of their approval. The girl's family then interview the young man and make inquiries among his friends and acquaintances concerning his health, attainments, and position in life, and if they are satisfied, they signify through the middleman their willingness that the marriage should take place. A date is then fixed for the sending of the first present, which takes the form of an article of jewellery, some cakes and a few dollars, wrapped in red paper, and the acceptance of the gift by the girl's parents signifies the girl's acceptance of the marriage lines. The dollars really represent the purchase-money, for in theory a wife is still acquired by purchase in China, though the practice of actually buying a wife has been for many years non-existent among the more enlightened upper and middle classes. Nowadays the money is usually returned as "school fees for the bridegroom," the girls parents thereby intimating that they refuse to sell their daughter, but are willing to give her in marriage without price. By so doing they claim for the girl equality with her husband.

In poor families, however, the money is often accepted as a dowry, and for the purchase of the girl's trousseau. All this occurs while the girl remains in ignorance of the fact that the arrangements are in progress, or even if she does know something about them custom demands that she shall pretend that she does not. Though her husband is not of her own choosing she is usually well content, for she sees that all marriages are arranged by the parents, and that the proportion of good matches is quite as large in China as in countries where the difficult task of selection devolves on the young people themselves.


The first present is followed by two other gifts of cakes, and wine, money, and jewellery. Besides the presents, letters are exchanged between the parents of the contracting parties, and these letters, usually three in number, are held to be written evidences of the marriage, and are accepted as legal documents. The marriage usually takes place within about a month after the giving of the last present, but there are certain seasons of the year in which marriages are forbidden by ancient custom. For example, they take place but rarely in the first month of the year, and never in the third, fifth, and ninth months.

On the day appointed for the ceremony the bridegroom's parents send the middleman with a chair, known as the "Fakin" (variegated chair), draped with red silk hangings, to fetch the bride, who is carried in procession to her new home, with banners flying, and amid the music of insistent bands, the clamour of gongs, and the incessant fusilade of fire-crackers. She is arrayed in embroidered red silk, and wears a red veil, which betokens that she has been preserved from the prying eyes of strangers, especially of the opposite sex. When she is carried into the house she is accompanied by the bridegroom, and kneels and bows to heaven and earth and the ancestral tablets and to the bridegroom, who, of course, acknowledges the compliment by returning it. Immediately after this she is unveiled by the bridegroom and is taken to her room. The bridal dress consists of a long coat of embroidered red silk, with a mantle and scarf of red embroidery. The head-dress is a curiously shaped cap, with pearl hangings almost completely hiding the face. The bridegroom is attired in a silk court dress, with two broad ribbons, forming a sash, worn crosswise over the shoulders and breast. The observance of a form of ancestral worship in the family hall, in which the young people take part, is an important feature of the marriage rites. On the night of her arrival in her new home the bride sits down with the bridegroom to dinner, and they celebrate this, their first meal together, by partaking of the loving cup, a vessel usually of silver, but sometimes of pewter. This dinner inaugurates the marriage feast, which lasts two days, and is really a series of festivities. The bride is entertained by the ladies of the household, including the sisters of the bridegroom, but Chinese ideas of modesty forbid her to do more than just touch the proffered dishes at these ceremonial meals. Meanwhile the friends and relations of the family are entertained by the husband's parents, in acknowledgment of the presents which have been received by them. On the third day the bride returns to the home of her father and mother, paying a visit of a day's duration, and in the evening her parents give a dinner to the bridegroom, who is hampered by no restrictions such as are imposed upon his bride. The feasting over, the young people return to the husband's parental roof, under which they are to reside in rooms specially reserved for them. The bride is supposed to provide the furniture and everything required for the household.

The marriage ceremonies which have been outlined are among those more commonly observed in China, and are, of course, subject to considerable variation in different parts of the Empire; but the three essentials — the consent of the parents, the intervention of the middleman, and the ancestral worship in the family hall — are most rigidly adhered to everywhere. Girls are usually married between the ages of seventeen and twenty (in English reckoning, from sixteen to nineteen), and men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one (seventeen and twenty).

When a girl marries she calls her husband's people her family, and her own parents her "outside family." In saying "I am going home" she implies that she is going to the home of her parents-in-law ; she always refers to her maiden home as her "outer home." In this may be traced the influence of the ancient custom which held that when married a woman ceased to belong to her own people, and became the possession, or chattel, of her husband.



The Chinese in their social intercourse have certain well-defined rules. A visitor will seek the acquaintance of the inhabitants of the town or village by calling on any gentlemen to whom he may have letters of introduction, while his wife or female relatives visit the ladies. The arrival of a distinguished man in a place of any importance is usually celebrated by a dinner given in his honour by the leading residents. At a dinner party the gentlemen sit at one table and the ladies at another in a different room. Dishes are served ready cut up, the food being placed in a large bowl or dish in the centre of the table, from which the guests help themselves mouthful by mouthful. The table is usually square or round, a long table being rarely seen.

Tea and tobacco are always to hand in a man's office or place of business, both for his own use and for that of callers. The tea is regarded not only as a stimulant, but as a desirable substitute for strong drink.

In official circles tea has a curious ceremonial use. At the commencement of a conference cups of the beverage are brought in and placed before the official and his visitor, and when the official, whose ideas of politeness will not suffer him to dismiss his visitor in so many words, desires to intimate that the interview must be brought to an end, he does so by lifting the cup and drinking the tea, whereupon the visitor departs.



In a country where the veneration of ancestors forms part of the very fibre of the national character it is not surprising to find that the customs and ceremonies attendant upon the disposal of the dead are of the most elaborate description. Before a Chinaman breathes his last his relatives lift him from his bed and carry him into the hall, where he is clothed in full mandarin costume. Every head of a family is entitled after death to lie in state for a certain number of days in the hall, where his friends may perform the last rites and pay their respects to the memory of the departed. Coverlets of silk or cloth are sent by his kinsmen and more intimate friends, and are laid upon the corpse, the colours white and red — the Chinese mourning and lucky colours, respectively — alternating. The red is supposed to augur well for the man's posterity. The hour at which death occurs is made known to a priest, who thereupon makes certain calculations, and writes upon a piece of paper inter alia the time when the body may be encoffined, and when the soul of the departed may be expected to return to visit the family. Many superstitious Chinese actually believe the latter prediction to be true, and at the time indicated by the priest, a table, spread with wines and cakes, is placed in the hall for the refreshment of the returned spirit. They aver that invariably something is taken from this table, showing that the soul of the departed has actually come back, and has consumed a portion of the food in order to manifest its return. During the lying-in-state, Taoist or Buddhist priests are called in to say mass, and to perform other religious rites, and more often than not nuns are also in attendance. A vigil is kept every night, candles, sent by relatives of the deceased, are lighted, and the subtle fragrance emitted by burning joss-sticks rises continuously. Sounds of mourning mingle with the prayers muttered by the priests in an unknown tongue, incense is offered, and paper money, gilt or silvered, cut or fashioned in the shape of coins, is burned in the belief that the departed will be able to make use of it as currency in the nether world. Round the hall the members of the dead man's family, with hair dishevelled, sit upon mats or straw thrown upon the ground, wailing and bemoaning their loss.

The heir of the departed, attended by different members of the family, and possibly by some friends, goes out at a time appointed by the priest to buy water for the last ablutions before the body is placed in the coffin. In a country district the water is taken from a stream, and a few cash are thrown in for payment ; but in a town where there is no stream available the water is obtained from a bucket placed at a street corner near the house. In days gone by the body was actually washed, but nowadays a white cloth is dipped in the water by the heir of the family and passed in front of the face and limbs of the deceased, without coming into actual contact with them.

The coffin is often of the most expensive description, costing sometimes as much as several thousands of dollars. Pine from Laochow, in the Kwangsi district, is generally used in its construction, and the price varies according to the fineness of the wood. Great care is taken to place the body fairly on its back, exactly in the centre of the coffin. The coffin is then packed with small bags of lime, obtained from the cuttlefish, and these serve the double purpose of keeping the body in position and of absorbing moisture. Putty is used in fitting on the lid of the coffin, so that, when fastened down, the receptacle is practically airtight. The screws used are of brass, and are a foot or more in length. When the coffin has to be carried a long distance tarred ropes are placed round it to facilitate handling and to render the fastening more secure.

The wearing of unhemmed white dresses of some coarse material is enjoined upon children mourning their parents, and over this dress a sort of surplice of sack-cloth is worn. The head-dress for the male is woven of bamboo and coarse cloth, with tassels of cotton ; but that for the woman is a hood of hempen sack. The shoes are of coarse straw. Each of the chief mourners carries a curious stick, usually of bamboo,


The Watercarrier.     Washing Day.     Coolie Family.
Aged Peasant.     A Cheerful Crowd.     Aged Peasant.
The Family Conveyance.     A "Fair" Load.     Country Dame.
Handbarrow Men.     Swineherd and his Charge.     A Street Sewing Woman.
with a paper frill, attached with gum, wound spirally along its whole length. In some parts of the country these sticks are necessary for driving away dogs, hyænas, wolves, and other wild animals, for Chinese burial grounds are often at some long distance from human habitations.

The coffin is carried by from eight to sixteen men, sometimes by even more. The funeral is attended by bands of native instrumentalists, wearing white clothes, and playing mournful music. Banners are carried in the procession, and friends and relatives often send scrolls of silk or flannel bearing complimentary references to the departed. These scrolls are taken back to the house and hung up for a certain time, after which the characters affixed to them are taken off so that the material may be used for clothing or for other purposes. If the burial-place is some distance away in the country, or if the deceased is to be buried in another country, the procession makes its way to a temporary resting-place, where the coffin is deposited, and the friends who have followed the cortege take leave of the departed after burning incense, kowtowing, and performing other religious rites. Only the relatives follow to the graveside and witness the interment.

The cemetery itself is not necessarily the last resting-place of the deceased. The relatives consult a necromancer, who engages in a search for a "lucky spot" for the grave, as near to their own ancestral village as possible. This search may occupy months, or even years. Many points have to be considered. If possible, the site must be on a hill-side, and it must occupy a certain position in relation to the wind and the sea, or the nearest river. The situation having been selected, the coffin is buried on an auspicious day indicated by the necromancer, and a horseshoe-shaped tomb is built round it. In some cases in which it is not practicable, for pecuniary or other reasons, to move the coffin, the body is buried for ten or twenty years, and the bones are then exhumed and placed in jars. These jars are conveyed by the relatives to their native village, and deposited outside the grave, awaiting the decision of the necromancer as to a lucky date for the final interment. Not until the jar itself is placed in the ground do the Chinese consider the burial complete.

For forty-nine days — seven periods of seven days each — after a man's death masses are said, religious ceremonies performed, and sacrifices offered. The days of the third and fifth periods are days of sacrifice, and a third sacrifice falls within the seventh period. During these forty-nine days a business man mourning his father absents himself from work, and allows his head to go unshaven.


Quite a number of rules surround the practice of mourning for the dead. Children mourn their parents three years, brothers and sisters mourn each other for one year, and grandchildren mourn grandparents for the same period. A husband mourns his wife for one year, but a widow wears her weeds for three years. Nephews and nieces mourn for one year. For the purposes of mourning a year is only nine lunar months, and a married daughter is only permitted to mourn for her parents one year, reserving the three years' mourning for her husband and her parents-in-law. Whilst in mourning for parents the Chinese are not supposed to take part in gaieties of any kind.

Among the official classes it is a recognised rule that no man may hold office during a period of mourning for a parent except by the special permission of the Emperor. The period of mourning the death of the Emperor himself is three years.



The head of a family may make a will, or dispose of his estate by word of mouth, or by memoranda, signed or unsigned. But in the absence of any verbal instruction or instrument in writing, all his sons, whether by his wife or handmaids (whose position will be defined later on), take equal shares of all his property other than the sacrificial, or family property. The formal will is uncommon in the interior of China, because a Chinaman believes it to be unlucky to talk about death when in perfect health, or, when he has an ailment, to anticipate death by making a will. The most common method of bequeathing property is by giving oral instructions. Feeling the end approaching, the head of the family assembles the members of his family and some of his clansmen, and gives them directions as to the future conduct of his business, and as to the manner in which his possessions shall be divided. Invariably the eldest son, or heir, inherits all sacrificial property, or property set aside for family or ancestral worship. It is necessary here to explain that, though the law of China enjoins monogamy, certain latitude is allowed when no heir has been born to a man. In such cases a man may take, in addition to his wife, other women who would be called respectively his second, third, or fourth handmaids. When a handmaid gives birth to a child, male or female, she is recognised as a secondary mother to the family; but if she have no issue she is regarded merely as a servant-maid all her life. These handmaids are generally girls of the lower classes, acquired by purchase from poor families. They become virtually the property of their employers, the purchase-money ranging from a few scores to thousands of dollars. In the absence, therefore, of a son by the wife, the eldest son of one of the handmaids is regarded as the heir. If the heir lives to have a family of his own, but predeceases his father, his eldest son becomes the heir to the sacrificial property; if he predeceases his father, and leaves no family, the son next in order of age inherits; but if a man has no son, either by his wife or his handmaids, it is competent for him to adopt one of his brother's sons as his heir.


If a man die without leaving any one to represent his line of descent he is considered to be under a curse. Consequently an heir is always found for him whether he leaves any estate or not. If he has no one to succeed him so nearly related to him as a brother's son, then one of a remoter degree in kinship or one of the same clan or even one bearing the same surname may be adopted. But it is a sine qua non that the heir be of the same surname and of the proper generation, that is, of the same generation as the man's own heir would be if he had one, otherwise the adoption would be illegal.

In disposing of landed property inter vivos certain formality has to be observed. When once a man acquires a piece of land his near relatives seem to have in it a right of pre-emption. In all purchase deeds, therefore, there is always a recital stating that the vendor first offered the property to his near relatives, but no one was willing to buy, and that through a middleman (the broker), a purchaser was then found who was willing to buy, &c. In actual practice no such offer is really made, but a notice posted for a certain time at a public place to the effect that it has been made is considered sufficient for the purpose; and the sale may, after the expiration of the time mentioned in the notice, be completed without being liable to be upset at a future date.


The lower classes of Chinese make some provision for the future by subscribing to societies which undertake to bear their funeral expenses, and to provide something for their widows and children. Almost every village has one of these friendly societies.


The medical profession in China is one for which neither law nor custom demands that a man shall be specially trained. Any one who chooses to do so can practise as a doctor without registration of any kind. He reads one or two standard Chinese works on medicine, and gains a knowledge of certain drugs, which he combines in so-called prescriptions, charging his patients from ten cents to one dollar. The patient holds a consultation with some of his friends and relatives, who discuss the prescription and not infrequently decide to eliminate certain of the drugs specified and to add others. They may also come to the conclusion that the dose suggested by the doctor is too large or too small, and alter it accordingly. When they have settled these matters to their own satisfaction, the approved drugs are boiled together until the decoction is reduced to from six to ten ounces, and the patient swallows the bowlful at one draught. This is one of the most curious features of the Chinese medical system. Every man who can read regards himself as a doctor in embryo. Even in the native hospital at Hongkong it is a common practice still for the director and certain members of the committee to assemble the native doctors round a table and discuss the various prescriptions which they have given during the day.

In the Chinese pharmacopea there are numbers of useful and powerful drugs, practically unknown in Europe, only waiting for some one with time, means, and the necessary training to demonstrate their value and impress them into the service of man. Jen-tsin, for example, is a powerful tonic and cardiac stimulant, but its uses are commonly known only to the Chinese.

Major surgery is practised only to a very limited extent in China, but minor operations, such as acupuncture and dry cupping, are frequently performed. Bonesetting, the reduction of dislocations, lancing of abscesses, and dental surgery may also be mentioned as having their place in Chinese surgery.

Altogether the Chinese make a considerable claim to efficiency in their methods, and though there is a substratum of practitioners employing witchcraft and the black arts, doctors of the better class aver that their percentage of cures is very high. In the case of small-pox, for instance, they guarantee 90 per cent, of cures — the European percentage is barely as high as 70. The outstanding name on the medical roll is that of Wa To, who lived in the Han dynasty. He used the knife freely, both for amputations and for minor operations, and obtained great repute. He has now been canonised, or deified, and is worshipped as the god of medicine.



Chinese religions and their inter-relationship with each other and with national social observances are dealt with at some length in another part of this volume, but as no article on the "Manners and Customs of the Chinese" would be complete without some reference to the people's beliefs, a passing allusion to them may here be permitted. As a general rule Chinese religions are regarded as three in number, namely, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, and into these is woven the all-prevalent ancestor-worship. Whatever its creed or conglomeration of creeds, every family or clan has its temple, in which are placed the tablets of the dead, supposed to be inhabited by the souls of departed ancestors; and in every house there is a hall set aside for the observance of the prescribed ceremonials, whereby the hovering spirits are propitiated.

Strictly speaking, it is a mistake to class Confucianism as a religion, for its founder — politician, economist, philosopher, and moralist — professed to teach only the ethics of right conduct and temporal welfare, and consistently evaded his disciples' inquiries concerning a future existence. "You do not understand life yet ; how can you hope to understand death?" he would ask. He refrained from discussing the problem; he rarely, if ever, spoke of gods and spirits; and even when he was ill he refused to offer up prayers, though urged to do so by one of his followers.

Taoism is a religion, because it speaks of a higher existence. Laotzv is looked upon as the founder of Taoism, though it is practically certain that the religion, which consists in the following of Tao, or "the right principle," really existed prior to his time. He was a contemporary of Confucius, and the latter often questioned him concerning the principle he advocated.

The introduction of Buddhism to China dales from the Han dynasty. It is said that one of the Han emperors, having dreamed that he saw a giant with a golden body, preaching a new religion, sent an ambassador to make inquiries. The ambassador, falling in with Buddhist priests in India, invited them to China. Both Taoism and Buddhism have degenerated, and are losing their hold on the minds of the people. Each religion has borrowed from the other doctrines, formulas, and observances which have won popular support or which have been favourably received by successive emperors ; but, with changing times and the spread of enlightenment, these devices are proving futile, and both religions are hastening to decay.

This assimilation by the various religions of the essential features of others has made it practically impossible for it to be said that the Chinese belong to any particular religion. In reality Chinamen are pantheistic, and believe just as much as they please of as many religions as they please. There are innumerable minor deities, each having its own sphere of activity, beneficent or malign. For example, a medical man would worship Wa To, the god of medicine ; while carpenters and others would sacrifice to Lo Pan, formerly an officer of the Public Works Department, and now deified as the god of architecture and building construction. Soldiers have Kwan Tai, their god of war; men of letters, Wun Chang, the god of literature; and so forth. Belief in a future existence is general. Somewhere in the centre of the earth there is said to be a region ruled by a king, or, according to some, by ten kings, where the deeds of men are weighed, and reward or punishment is meted out accordingly. The good will return to earth as great men, blessed with riches, honour, long life, and children ; the less worthy will enjoy similar happiness, but in a lower degree ; the evil will suffer privation and hardships of all kinds ; while those guilty of rebellion, murder, disobedience to parents, and other heinous offences will take the shape of horses, cattle, wild beasts, or some other animal.

The conversion of the adult Chinese to Christianity makes slow progress, and the reason is not far to seek. Usually, the Chinese display an easy tolerance of all religions, but there were, and still are, certain rules enjoined by Christianity which make it very difficult for the Chinese to embrace the faith. For instance, ancestral worship is prohibited, and monogamy is strictly enjoined. Thus, when a man who has taken to himself a wife and a handmaid desires to become a Christian, he is told that he must put away the handmaid, or second wife, and the question then arises — what is to become of her and her children? The Chinaman is apt to think twice before entering any society which demands the breaking up of his family in such a way. Another serious obstacle to the spread of Christianity is created by the numerous sects into which Christians are divided, and the conclusion at which the Chinese not unnaturally arrive is that a religion about which there is so much diversity of opinion among its followers cannot be so sound as it is claimed to be.


The Chinese have a wide field for the exercise of their charitable instincts. Not only is almsgiving enjoined by their religions, but the construction and repair of roads and bridges for the convenience of travellers, the building of hospitals, and the maintenance of homes for the aged or foundlings, are all regarded as meritorious works, securing to those who perform them, or contribute towards their performance, reward hereafter. For poor Chinese coffins are provided, and their funeral expenses are often borne by their more fortunate countrymen. Beggars are frequently assembled by the well-to-do and given a few cash each; quilted garments are distributed in the winter time; and a sort of rice gruel, known as congee, is freely dispensed to the needy. In the summer months people are accustomed to place supplies of tea outside their doors, or in places accessible to passers-by, for the refreshment of the thirsty. Almost every hamlet has its school, maintained at the common charge, where education is given for a nominal fee of a dollar or two a year to those who can afford to pay the sum, and free to those who are indigent. Buddhistic influence is traceable in many of these customs, and especially in the practice of purchasing birds and animals for the purpose of restoring them to liberty.


As in other countries, so in China, there are many and various kinds of societies, unions, or guilds among the people. But, in the Middle Kingdom, there is this difference, that none of them are legally registered or incorporated. So long as they do not commit anything against the peace or good order of the place or against the Imperial Government they are tolerated and even recognised by Government officials as institutions having certain rights and privileges. The most commonly known and by far the greater majority of these societies or unions are the guilds. These guilds are really trade or business unions or associations of artisans, manufacturers, or merchants. Each one particular trade or business has its own guild, in which all persons or firms engaged in that trade or business are associated together for mutual protection and aid. It has its own rules and regulations, its funds, and committee of management. The members of the committee are generally elected annually by members of the guild. The election usually takes place at the beginning of the Chinese year, when members meet and feast together. All rules or customs affecting any particular trade are regulated by its guild. Should any individual member transgress any of the rules he is liable to a fine, and should he persist after he has been warned or fined he is liable to be expelled from the guild. A member after expulsion is subject to a boycott by the other members of the guild, and oftentimes the boycott is maintained in such a vigorous manner that the ex-member is only too willing to submit to any terms that the guild may impose for his re-admittance. The common funds of the guild are raised differently in different guilds. Though collected chiefly for the purpose of protecting the trade or the members, they are often devoted to charities or used in connection with festivals, religious ceremonies, processions, and other public functions. On such occasions the different guilds frequently vie with each other in making the best show. Besides these guilds formed by persons engaged in some particular trade or business, there are other guilds formed by merchants of one particular province or 1 district trading in another province — such, for example, as the Canton Guild or Ningpo Guild in Shanghai or Tientsin. These guilds can scarcely be classed with the trade guilds, but are rather associations of a social and charitable nature. They possess big buildings known as "the Wiu Koon," in which the members meet and discuss matters affecting the welfare and interest of their provincials. There are also in China many other societies, some of them secret. The Ko Lo Wiu, the Big Knife and Triad Societies, are some of the better-known secret societies, to which only the lower classes belong. Even beggars themselves have their own associations. They divide themselves into districts, each of which is ruled by a headman, who is all-powerlul among his own associates, and the beggars of one district may not encroach upon another district.


The Chinese year is marked by four festivals, during each of which occurs a settling day, when accounts are paid as at Lady Day, Midsummer Day, Michaelmas Day, and Christmas Day in England. The first settling day is the fifth day of the fifth moon, the second occurs in the eighth moon, and the third in the eleventh. On these days it is optional, in some cases, whether a man pays his accounts or not. The fourth settling day is the last day in the year, when, in the absence of any very unusual circumstances, all accounts must be paid. A creditor will wait for his money until midnight, but if he allows the account to remain unpaid after that hour it is tantamount to giving the debtor another year's grace.

The New Year Festival is by far the most important. It begins on the first day of the first moon in the Chinese year (about the beginning of February), and for ten days practically every Chinaman keeps holiday, and business is at a standstill. Sounds of feasting and merriment, the wailing of weird instruments of music, and the explosion of countless fire-crackers create together an incessant din. The thoroughfares are thronged by day with holiday-makers in brilliant raiment, and are illuminated at night by myriads of diversely coloured paper lanterns.

The Dragon Boat Festival in the fifth moon is held in commemoration of a loyal minister of Cho, named Wat Yuen, who lived during the Chau dynasty and committed suicide by drowning himself. This festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth moon, about the time of the summer solstice.

The Eighth, or Harvest Moon, Festival, occurs in mid-autumn, that is, on the fifteenth day of the eighth moon, and is celebrated by the lighting of all kinds of lanterns, in the fashioning of which the Chinese display wonderful ingenuity both of design and construction.

The Eleventh Moon, or Winter, Festival, is a movable feast.


The settling day connected with each of these festivals is observed as a holiday, the other holidays kept by the Chinese being about one month in the Ching Ming, which falls in the third moon, when business men and their employés take leave by turns within this month to worship at the tombs of their ancestors, and the ten days at new year already referred to. In Hongkong, Shanghai, and the outports, Chinese in the employment of European firms have the leave customarily given on Bank and other holidays.


In the ninth moon many Chinese proceed to the mountains to conduct the autumnal sacrifices, and during this moon, as well as during the third and fifth moons, there is, as has already been stated, neither marrying nor giving in marriage.


No Chinese festivity is complete without music. According to popular tradition, the Emperor Fu, a contemporary of Tubal, invented "the divine art," and taught his people its rudimentary rules some four thousand years ago. There are now numerous examples of the three main classes of musical instruments—stringed, wind, and percussion. Of operatic airs, used in theatrical performances, there are, perhaps, not more than a dozen, but there are numbers of tuneful melodies to which songs are set. Chinese music can, of course, be rendered on the violin or other instrument of the viol tribe, upon the trombone, or by the human voice, but it cannot be exactly reproduced on a piano or other keyed instrument, or upon a European fretted stringed instrument, as there is a slight difference between the intervals of the Chinese scale and that used in the West. The inattentive ear will not readily distinguish any tune in music played by a Chinese band, and will probably receive an impression of melancholy and monotonous discords, but the careful listener may identify the various tunes, and will, without doubt, be surprised at the skill displayed by the musicians in performing upon most primitive instruments.

Of games there is an infinite variety, from games of chance, which gratify the almost universal love of gambling, to games comparable only to chess in the demands they make upon the skill of the exponent. Elephant kee, as it is called, is, in fact, very similar to the great scientitic game played by Western nations, in that the checkmating of the king, or commander, decides the issue. The Chinese game is based on military tactics, and, for the reason that women are not supposed to go to war, there is no queen. For hundreds of years this has been a favourite pastime of the educated classes, and its origin is lost in antiquity.


In the South of China theatrical performances are prefaced by some spectacular representations of propitious and happy omens. These preludes consist of shows representing the Eight Genii paying respect to the Queen of Heaven and wishing her eternal years, the presentation of a son and heir by a fairy, and the personification of official success and advancement. The plays-in-chief are generally adapted from historical events, the performance of which may extend over several days and nights. But in the northern part of China short historical acts, each quite unconnected with the other, are preferred, and the plays commence without any of the preliminaries of the south. Plays are usually selected pointing the moral that the wicked are punished and the virtuous rewarded. On the stage no serious effort is made to produce scenic effects, everything being left to the suggestive actions of the players and the imagination of the audience. For example, two tables, one piled on the top of the other, with the written Chinese characters for a "rampart" on the side may be all that represents a rampart. In the same manner, a chair put sideways, or a divided curtain held up by attendants, will be employed to represent respectively a river bank or a city gate. Again, an actor taking a whip in his hand and going through the movements associated with riding is to be taken as being on horseback, and so, too, when he goes through the action of closing and bolting a door, the door must be considered to have been closed and bolted, though, in fact, no door is visible. Although the stagery is primitive, the acting is most realistic to those who are in a position to understand and appreciate it. The chief and sole aim of an actor is to perfect himself in the role he takes without any adventitious aid from scenery. Although there are actresses in China, they do not as a rule act with men, as it is not considered to be decent by the better class of Chinese for them to do so. Consequently, female characters have in most companies to be undertaken by men. Each actor makes a special study of some particular character, whether it be that of an old man, a youth, a clown, a fighter, a literati, or a female, and does not take any other part. A good actor may command a big salary — some of them get as much as $10,000 a year — but their social status is not high.



    Not as gentle as he might be.     Al Fresco Tonsorial Artists.
    A Gentleman's Toilet.        



The wearing of the towchang, or queue, by the Chinese is, contrary to popular belief, a custom of comparatively recent origin, and the story of its introduction is one of the most interesting in the history of the nation. A little less than three hundred years ago, the struggle between the Mings and the Manchus ended in the conquest of China by the Tartars. One of the ministers of the fallen dynasty, desirous of seeing the Mings re-established, ingratiated himself with the conquerors, and urged them to humiliate the Chinese by enforcing upon them the wearing of the queue and of certain forms of dress, in token of their subjugation. The minister was actuated by the hope that the Chinese, exasperated beyond endurance, would make a last supreme effort to throw off the Tartar yoke, but, wearied with thirty years of bloodshed, and broken in spirit by the horrors attendant on the war, they submitted quietly to the indignity rather than prolong a futile struggle. Disappointed at this unexpected failure of his scheme, the minister put an end to his life, and the wearing of the queue has in course of time come to be regarded as a badge, honourable rather than servile, of loyalty to the reigning house.

The wearing of the towchang, enforced originally under pain of heavy penalties, has long ceased to be compulsory, and to-day, owing to the influence of Western ideas, large numbers of Chinese have discarded the appendage, and have adopted European dress. In official circles, however, the queue has still its loyal significance. Quite recently the Chinese Ambassador at Berlin sent a memorial to the Imperial Government requesting that members of the Chinese Embassy should be permitted to adopt European costume, so that they might not be conspicuous, but suggesting that the queue be allowed to remain "as a mark of respect to the Emperor."

Under former dynasties the mode of wearing the hair was similar to that until recently common in Japan, and still more recently in Korea. It may be added that under the old Manchu edict ladies were left free to dress their hair and attire themselves as they chose, and permission was granted for the dead to be arrayed by their friends in the costume of the former dynasty.

The practice of allowing the finger-nails to remain uncut originated in Hunan some two hundred years ago amongst Chinese ladies, from whom it was copied later by the literati, who sought in this way to show that they were not engaged in any manual occupation. The custom is now dying out, although it obtains still among the leisured classes in the interior.

It was the wife of the Emperor Li Hou Tsu, of the Tang dynasty, who first set the fashion of binding the feet, some twelve hundred years ago. The practice is rapidly falling into disfavour, and an imperial decree has, as has been stated previously, been issued within the last few years urging its discontinuance.


In conclusion, a brief mention must be made of the laws of China and their administration. The penal code now in force, known as the Tai Ching Lut Lee, was compiled at the beginning of the present dynasty, and comprises (at least in one edition) some twenty-four volumes. It has been added to, altered, confirmed, or modified from time to time, by the rescripts or edicts of successive emperors, the emperor being, both in theory and practice, the lawgiver.

Four, or sometimes five, ministers of his own choosing act as his advisers. They are usually venerable officers of high standing, and hold office during their lifetime, or until disability or the imperial pleasure dictates their retirement. The administration of the penal code is left to magistrates appointed by the Viceroys of the several provinces. During the hearing of criminal cases not only the defendant but also the complainant and the witnesses are liable to be punished if suspected of suppressing the truth — caning, bambooing, and torture being inflicted at the discretion of the magistrate.

Until quite recently these methods of "truth-compelling" were permitted in civil cases, and though they have now been formally abolished by imperial edict they are still commonly employed in a great number of places. The tortures, which have so frequently been described that they need not here be detailed, are fiendish in their ingenuity, and are certainly effectual in securing to justice a victim, even though an innocent one, for every crime committed. The punishments meted out by the court in criminal cases include fines, imprisonment, and death by the cord, by the sword, or by torture.

MR. TSO SEEN WAN, the author of the foregoing article, went to England upon the completion of his Chinese education at the age of eighteen, and entered Cheltenham College. He subsequently qualified as a solicitor in England, and has been in practice in Hongkong for nearly twelve years.