From the moment that the men of the desert entered China, and, from living on the backs of horses and among cattle, slept in houses and lived like civilized people, they began to lose their language and for the most part their peculiar customs, and rapidly to become Chinese.
It is the China of the Ming and Manchu dynasties that our European ancestors first saw and described, and with which the books written and read during the last three hundred years have made us familiar. The notions and ideas of the average man of to-day, who does not study, is of this China, now already in large part obsolete. Most of the pictures which have impressed us as children, beyond the power of any printed matter or writing, and the curiosities in the museums are from Ming days. It is the China from which our fathers first obtained porcelain, lacquer, ivory, and crystal work, matting, drugs, tea, spices, fire-crackers, nankeen, crape, silk, and odd things bearing the odors of the East. China is above all others the land of odors,—sweet, mysterious, pleasant, and otherwise.
The Portuguese, first to round the Cape of Good Hope, were the European pioneers in China. Two small fleets of these "Southern Barbarians" came to Canton in 1511. They were well treated. A revulsion of Chinese feeling followed after the commander of the third fleet had committed brutal outrages along the coast. He was seized and beheaded and his men massacred at Ningpo. The survivors fled to Macao, where they were allowed to settle. Until within recent years, Macao was virtually a Portuguese possession, and with Canton was one of the two chief foreign seaports of China. Here, in exile, Camoens wrote his poem, the "Lusiad," which celebrates the achievements of Portuguese explorers in the Orient.
The Spaniards followed, settling in the Philippine Islands. At Manila, where the population was chiefly Chinese, they treated the people with cruelty, and suspecting them of complicity in a plot, massacred thousands of them. After such treatment of their countrymen, the Chinese were not inclined to receive human beings from Europe very hospitably. For centuries the "foreign devils," so called in China, were believed to be so because of what the people heard about them.
The Dutch pioneers in the Far East, the Houtman brothers, having obtained charts of the seas, sailed from the Texel in 1595. By 1622, after failing to establish a factory in Canton, the Dutch secured a foothold in the Pescadores. When driven out from these islands, they made a strong settlement at Tai-wan, in Formosa, built a fort, laid out a town, and began the conversion of the natives. They led all Protestant nations in establishing the first foreign missions on a large scale. Over a score of ordained ministers and many teachers instructed hundreds of converts and translated the creeds and the gospels into Formosan. They met with great success until conquered by Koxinga. Such an impression was made on the people that, after three centuries, the first natives ordained to office in the churches, in our days, were descendants of the converts of the seventeenth century. Formosa, hitherto virtually unknown or ignored by China, was colonized by Chinese from Fukien province by Koxinga and his father, the latter having married a wife from the Japanese, then numerous in the island.
The Ming dynasty was in power when the great missionary Francis Xavier, after laboring in India and Japan, came to China. He lived on the island which he named Saint John, now corrupted into San Ciano, near Macao, where he died in 1552. To this day, the Portuguese make annual pilgrimages to his grave. His two successors, Roger and Ricci, settled in Kwantung in 1582, and under the Emperor Wan Li reached Peking. Ricci was highly honored at court, and being a man of science, gave the Chinese the benefit of his knowledge of astronomy and mechanics. He translated Euclid and helped to correct the Chinese calendar, besides assisting in making and using improved war weapons. Some of these astronomical instruments, their supports being cast in bronze in the form of dragons and other mythical creatures, found in Peking, were removed to Germany after the Boxer riots, as part of the loot taken by Christian armies to Europe.
What were the first impressions and real feelings of the Chinese toward Europeans? We are apt to suppose that these Asian people must of necessity consider us handsome and our ways pleasant. Yet in truth what we think of them and what they think of us is well balanced. Our faces seem often pale and ghost-like. Our deep-set eyes have to them an uncanny, far-apart look. Our high, large noses frighten their children. Our hair, of various tints, shades, and colors, instead of standard black, makes anything but a pleasing impression at first. The odor of our bodies, whether we are emperors and empresses, or day laborers, being that of meat-eating people, is not pleasant to these rice-eaters. Our drinking of liquor from large glasses, and our use of cooked flesh, not in scraps but in quantities, besides many forms of our table manners and general etiquette, the dress, public relations, and common ideas concerning the sexes, are in their eyes decidedly below par. They consider departure from inherited tradition outlandish, improper, wrong, wicked, devilish,—according to the culture, experience, or reason possessed by the person judging. In every land, however, gentlemen are gentlemen and ladies are ladies, and they soon discover one another. Probably Moses, Confucius, and St. Paul could dine together comfortably and enjoy an interview. Certainly many Chinese are noble exemplars of loyalty, gratitude, and friendship; not at all the "treacherous" people so often caricatured in America.
While people in the northern part of China submitted and shaved their heads in token of obedience to the new rulers, the southerners attempted to keep up the Ming dynasty. Several emperors under this name held power for a short time. The national feeling toward the Ming, or any other dynasty, is accurately expressed in the motto of a patriot who refused to cut the dikes and flood the country, because it would hurt the Chinese more than the Manchus,—"First the people and next the dynasty." As the Tartar soldiers moved south, capturing city after city, they compelled the beaten folk to apply the razor to their scalps, making a harvest for the barbers. The career of victory of the Peking troops did not end until they were at the borders of Burma.
In general, the policy of the Manchus was one of conciliation. China was the fat goose that laid golden eggs, and these new politicians were not in a hurry to ruin their prize. A grand council was organized, consisting of four members, two Manchus and two Chinese. These four men, having audience of the sovereign, outranked the members of the Six Boards and of the Board of Censors. By thus giving equal representation to both races, the conquerors gradually removed most of the hatred with which they were at first regarded. The garrisons and military officers were Manchu, but most of the civil offices were held by Chinese.
This fact explains one great difference between the Japanese and their Continental neighbors. In China there has always been a great gulf fixed between the soldier and the civilian. The idea of Chinese statesmen has always been to govern through moral agencies rather than by physical force. War is considered a rude and abominable business, fit only for men of low degree. Hence the soldier is despised and the scholar is honored. The man of war was especially hated when a Manchu.
In Japan, on the contrary, the soldier and the scholar have been one. The accomplishments of the pen and the sword were united in the samurai, or servant of the emperor, who incarnated the history of Japan. Under feudalism, the merchant, long honored in China, was despised in Japan. Yet as Nippon has changed, so has the Central Empire, in her ideas, while facing the new age of economics under pressure of hostile nations, and she is adopting modern armaments. In this century China is honoring the soldier and Japan the trader.
When the great emperor Kang Hi, eight years of age, began in a.d. 1662 his reign of sixty-one years, the country entered upon a career of prosperity and splendor. Two embassies from Europe came to Peking in 1664, but when the new rulers insisted upon the kow-tow, or nine prostrations, the Russians, who had come overland through Siberia, refused and returned. The Dutch yielded for the sake of trade, but gained little thereby. Adam Schall, a Jesuit missionary, was for a time the tutor of the young emperor, but on a false charge was thrown into prison. The emperor showed favor to the Jesuits, while Father Verbiest, a Dutch priest, succeeded as tutor to the emperor and corrected errors in the calendar.
Chinese and Japanese, when jealous, are as bitter and unrelenting in punishing rivals as are Europeans. The tragedies of the Tower of London and of the graves in the Chapel of St. Peter in Chains have their counterparts in the East. The court officers were not at all thankful to the Dutchman, despite his thirty years of honorable service. They persecuted him for his truth-telling, which is no more liked in Japan or China than in Europe when it is disagreeable. They were especially sensitive, since the calendar is the sign of Chinese infallibility, and when accepted by pupil nations is a sign of vassalage. The mandarins had Verbiest condemned to be sliced into a thousand pieces, but the order was not executed, and he died with a whole skin in prison at the age of seventy-eight. Regis and others conducted a survey of the empire, then the most complete geographical work ever done out of Europe. When it was published the learned men in the West obtained clear ideas about China's greatness.
As usual, the southern Chinese, who in mind and habit differ notably from their countrymen in the north, were in rebellion, one of the rebels even threatening to come to Peking, but he was subdued. Knowing how weak they were on the water, the Manchus sent an overwhelming force to make Formosa a part of the empire. Three hundred ships with twelve thousand men were sent to conquer and occupy the island, but they won only the western half. With this success and exception, the great Kang Hi's reign was undisputed. He was a generous patron of literature. The superb standard dictionary and encyclopaedia of 5026 volumes were compiled under his direction, and published. Kang Hi also wrote out himself sixteen famous moral maxims. These, expanded and annotated by his son, formed the book called the Sacred Edict, which ever since has been read and expounded throughout the empire; indeed, it is supposed to be read in every town and village on the first and fifteenth days of the month. When properly carried out, the exercises are much like those in a church on Sunday in a Christian land.
In religious matters the Roman Catholic missionaries enjoyed imperial favor, built one hundred churches, and enrolled one hundred thousand converts, but trouble arose within. The different orders in the Catholic Church disputed concerning the term to be used for God. When they appealed to a ruler in Italy to settle the question, the Chinese Emperor could not understand such a procedure, and took alarm. The Jesuits approved of the worship of ancestors, but the Dominicans and Franciscans opposed the cult. The Pope condemned ancestor-worship, which still further angered the emperor. From Italy also came the command to use the term Heavenly Lord (Tien Chin) instead of the term for Heaven (Tien), or the Dweller in Heaven (Shang Ti). When it was realized at Peking that there was an empire within an empire, the emperor was furious, and issued an edict which greatly restricted the work of the missionaries. Had the ancient cult of ancestor-homage been winked at, vast success might have been won, and in time this method of honoring the family, founded on forty centuries of harmony, might have been as easily reconciled to Christianity as are some of those notions, still prevalent in Christian churches, of which Jesus knew nothing.
Despite outward conformity, the Chinese in many ways clung to their old customs, as against the novelties introduced by their conquerors. Chinese women still held to their foot-binding, while the Manchu females, with natural feet, were free to walk. "The men submitted, the women never; the living yielded, the dead not at all," became a proverb. "Pigtail and 'lily' feet" expressed the situation. The style of dress ordered by their rulers in Peking was worn, but the dead are always robed in the old Chinese manner. Thus the natives cherished their liberties, the women being, as ever, the social conservatives.