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Asia down to the present time, must come mostly from books, in using which we must be on our guard against the prejudices of the writers, as well as against our own prejudice and ignorance. The more also we can multiply and improve and diversify our points of view, the better. The best books for our purpose are those written by Asiatics themselves.
Partly, then, by going back to the time when Asia and Europe stood on nearly the same plane of attainment; partly by going down in our observations to the present peasantry, more especially of Eastern Europe ; partly by help from books, we may institute comparisons that will not, or at least need not, mislead us. Even a century later than the fourteenth, when European progress began to require the printingpress and the discovery of a new continent, it requires an eye that looks below the surface to discern the commencing superiority of Europe. But from that time onward, while Asia has been nearly stationary, Europe, except a portion of the peasantry, so slow to move, has strode forward astonishingly, by means of developments in political liberty, freedom of thought in religion, and most of all by progress in science. It should not be wholly forgotten, that so late as the sixteenth century, that illustrious period when Europeanism was girding itself so grandly for an unparalleled destiny, three of the greatest sovereigns and governments of the century were Asiatic, — Akbar of India, Abbas of Persia, and Soliman the Magnificent of Turkey. The last two, it is true, tarnished their great qualities by great crimes; but these are half forgotten when we turn to the contemporary history of the West, and read of Henry VIII., murderer of wife after wife, of Philip II., unequalled ecclesiastical and theological tyrant, of the St. Bartholomew butcheries in France, with the consequent Te Deum in St. Peter's. The name of Akbar is a glory to any civilization that can claim it. His imperishable fame must be divided between the Mohammedans and the Hindus. The greatest and best contemporary monarchs of the West, Elizabeth and Henry IV., much as we would honor them with our gratitude, must yield the palm to Akbar. With the foregoing hints to aid us in our comparisons and judgments, we proceed to a more detailed, yet rapid, survey of our wide field.
The human race or races (for we cannot delay upon the question whether there was one Adam or many) rose out of barbarism into civilization in at least four distinct localities, between the parallels of 25° and 35°, and on fertile plains watered by great rivers. On the Nile, on the Euphrates, on the Indus and Ganges, and along the two great rivers of China, the tillers of the earth, aided by soil and sun and river, were able to produce more food than was needed for themselves, and so a class of men could be spared to turn their attention to other things than the production of the necessaries of life. Thus in those four productive regions men proceeded on their upward course. We mean their upward course from barbarism. How they reached the barbarous state from the savage, and how the savage from the wild, are questions not specially contemplated by our present inquiry. Questions, therefore, respecting the Aryans, the supposed starting-point of the Hindus and Persians, and even of the Greeks and Germans, and respecting the origin of the Chinese, and the Asiatic origin of the Egyptians, are excluded from our plan.
Of all the present civilizations of the world, the Chinese is the most independent and homogeneous. A great people, secluded from the rest of mankind by mountains, deserts, and remoteness, have been left from the first, so far as appears, to their own unaided resources, save as helped by the Supreme Helper of all. It is, then, a strictly self-made, self-evolved civilization. Giving to this fact its due weight, the result seems remarkable and encouraging. We might incline to attribute to them, as to the Greeks, some superiority of race, but for the sad inferiority of their language. It could never be that a superior race should contrive, or be content with, so poor an instrument of communication and culture. The conclusion therefore must be, not a superiority, but a peculiarity of race; and probably such a peculiarity as implies inferiority. There is in the Chinese a marked deficiency of imagination, – too little of the ideal, too much of the practical. Looking at their language, it is difficult to understand how they have risen by it out of barbarism. Can it be, that, without clearness and flexibility of expression and well-defined thought, men can advance on the path of improvement by some half-blind method intermediate between instinct and thought? Or may some strengthening of the will serve as a compensation for a deficiency in an important intellectual faculty ? Or is the Chinese imagination of such peculiar constitution that it only slumbers, waiting for its century of blossoming? Or are the Chinese and their language destined, like the Egyptians and their hieroglyphics, the Assyrians and their cuneiform letters, to pass away, leaving us another problem to wonder over and study out? Whatever our impression respecting the Chinese and their destiny, we can hardly fail of an encouraging conclusion, from their experiment, concerning human nature and destiny in general. For here is an unseconded race, slow and plodding, believers only in tradition and old custom, hindered by the most unwieldy of languages, with no discoverable compensating advantages, yet pushing their way upward to civilization at a very early period, and holding their ground steadfastly against all enemies from within or without. Repeatedly subdued by Northern barbarians, they have always civilized their conquerors, and still pursued their undeviating march. Wonderful indeed must be the energy and tenacity of man, his ability to subdue nature, his skill to use and evade circumstances, his nearness to the Unseen Guidance and his alliance with the Infinite Strength ; so that everywhere and always there may be hope and work and progress, eternal prophecy of the Future where all faith is in the Past; as if the personal and impersonal were rounded into one, Asiatic Pantheism and European Theism flowing into and complementing each other; and as if the energy and rapidity of Europe, the slowness and tenacity of Asia, the high and low tides of the one, the almost tidelessness of the other, might all coalesce and contribute to the nobility of man.
The Chinese seem to have owed their civilization chiefly to agriculture, government, morality, manufactures, commerce, and schools. No people have owed so little to worship, theology, war, poetry, and art. Marco Polo, contemporary of Dante and Giotto, the Herodotus of the Middle Ages, as Ritter calls him, going to China from what was then the foremost country of Europe, uniformly speaks of the Chinese and their
civilization with respect, sometimes with admiration. He evidently looked upon them, in all except religion, as more advanced than his countrymen, the Italians. “Riding through Cathay you find always handsome cities and castles, abundance of arts and merchandise, fine inns, trees, vines, and a civilized people.”*
The civilization of Japan, so similar to that of China, does not require special notice in a survey so general. Passing from the Chinese to the Hindus, we have one of the most remarkable contrasts to be found in the whole circle of human development. If, in judging of these two races by our standard, we discover in the Chinese a deficiency of imagination, we perceive in the Hindus an excess of the same faculty. We thus have the mind of man poised on three different
* Murray's Marco Polo, Part I. XXXV. He also says: “The houses of the citizens are well built, and richly adorned with carving, in which, as well as in painting and ornamental buildings, they take great delight, and lavish enormous sums. Their natural disposition is pacific, and the example of their former unwarlike kings has accustomed them to live in tranquillity. They keep no arms in their houses, and are unacquainted with their use. Their mercantile transactions are conducted in a manner perfectly upright and honorable. They also behave in a friendly manner to each other, so that the inhabitants of the same neighborhood appear like one family. In their domestic relations they show no jealousy or suspicion of their wives, but treat them with great respect. Any one would be held as infamous that should address indecent expressions to married women. They behave with cordiality to strangers who visit the city for commercial purposes, hospitably entertain them, and afford their best assistance in their business. On the other hand, they hate the very sight of soldiers.” (172. Part I. LXXV.) This pleasing picture, painted five hundred years ago, is known by the traveller of to-day in China and Italy to be perfectly faithful, and, making due allowance for the Italian stand-point of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, not highly colored in any respect. Polo several times speaks of paper money, which seems to have been invented by the Chinese. Of Fugui (Fuchow, probably) he says : “The people have abundance of all things necessary for subsistence, fine gardens with good fruit; and the city is wonderfully well ordered in all respects.” (LXXX.) Of Kinsai (Hangchow) he writes : “I will tell you all its nobleness, for without doubt it is the largest city in the world.” There is “a palace of the king, the noblest and most beautiful in the world.” (LXXIV.) He often commends the Chinese for cleanliness. The European or American of the present day finds them a filthy people; not because there has been a change in the Chinese in this matter, but a great improvement among ourselves. We may thus use the Chinese as a metre to measure our own progress in other things besides cleanliness. Infanticide is not to be taken as proof of peculiar cruelty in the Chinese. Making suitable allowance for over-population, it may be questioned whether the Chinese are much worse in this respect than Christian nations.
VOL. LXVII. — 5TH S. VOL. V. NO. I. 2
pivots, balanced according to three different degrees of that faculty which philosophers tell us " is the great spring of human activity and the principal source of human improvement." * But let us not too hastily conclude that our proportion of imagination is alone good, our balance of faculties alone safe, our pivot the only one in the heart of which wisdom dwells. To most observers, perhaps to all observers at first, the Hindus seem inferior to the Chinese. In all externals, except grace of manners and cleanliness, the Chinese make the most favorable impression upon strangers. They live in better houses; wear costlier, though less becoming, garments; have more thrift and comfort and wealth. Like many of the aristocratic families of Europe, and like much of the fashionable society of all countries, the Hindus have a bad habit of running in debt and keeping in debt. This is a chronic evil in Hindustan, and the parent of other evils. Money-lenders abound; borrowers superabound. This habit is so inveterate, so interwoven with all business and society, that the English have hitherto found it as unmanageable as caste itself. Oppressive taxation from time immemorial has induced this habit on the part of the many, and that of hoarding on the part of the few. To make the matter worse, the English have introduced the European custom of government debt; so that all India, from the Coolie upward, is doubly enslaved by debt and caste, all freedom, private and public, spiritual and material, mortgaged over and over ;- a bad condition of things, though not worse than can be found, in one form or another, in many civilized countries, while the evils of barbarism are worse, and those of the savage state much worse. By fixing the eye exclusively on the evils of the world, from a single point of view, in any age or country, it is easy for even a wise man to lose half his wisdom and all his patience. Accordingly Mr. Minturn, author of one of the books on our list, though a catholic, careful, and intelligent observer, has sometimes shown himself too severe a critic of the Hindus, too much disposed to prefer the thrifty Chinese, too ready to adopt the prejudices of the patriotic and gentlemanly, rather than
* Dugald Stewart, Philosophy of the Human Mind, Chap. VII. Sec. VI.