4. Lecture IV: China And Ancient Greece
The study of Chinese presents at least one advantage over the study of the Greek and Roman classics; I might add, of Hebrew, of Syriac, and even of Sanskrit. It may be pursued for two distinct objects. The first, and most important object to many, is to acquire a practical acquaintance with a living language, spoken and written by about one-third of the existing population of the earth, with a view to the extension of commercial enterprise, and to the profits and benefits which may legitimately accrue therefrom. The second is precisely that object in pursuit of which we apply ourselves so steadily to the literatures and civilisations of Greece and Rome.
Sir Richard Jebb, in his essay on "Humanism in Education," points out that even less than a hundred years ago the classics still held a virtual monopoly, so far as literary studies were concerned, in the public schools and universities of England. "The culture which they supplied," he argues, "while limited in the sphere of its operation, had long been an efficient and vital influence, not only in forming men of letters and learning, but in training men who afterwards gained distinction in public life and in various active careers."
Long centuries had fixed so firmly in the minds of our forefathers a belief, and no doubt to some extent a justifiable belief, in the perfect character of the languages, the literatures, the arts, and some of the social and political institutions of ancient Greece and Rome, that a century or so ago there seemed to be nothing else worth the attention of an intellectual man. The comparatively recent introduction of Sanskrit was received in the classical world, not merely with coldness, but with strenuous opposition; and all the genius of its pioneer scholars was needed to secure the meed of recognition which it now enjoys as an important field of research. The Regius Professorship of Greek in the University of Cambridge, England, was founded in 1540; but it was not until 1867, more than three centuries later, that Sanskrit was admitted into the university curriculum. It is still impossible to gain a degree through the medium of Chinese, but signs are not wanting that the necessity for such a step will be more widely recognised in the near future.
All the material lies ready to hand. There is a written language, which for difficulty is unrivalled, polished and perfected by centuries of the minutest scholarship, until it is impossible to conceive anything more subtly artistic as a vehicle of human thought. Those mental gymnastics, of such importance in the training of youth, which were once claimed exclusively for the languages of Greece and Rome, may be performed equally well in the Chinese language. The educated classes in China would be recognised anywhere as men of trained minds, able to carry on sustained and complex arguments without violating any of the Aristotelian canons, although as a matter of fact they never heard of Aristotle and possess no such work in all their extensive literature as a treatise on logic. The affairs of their huge empire are carried on, and in my opinion very successfully carried on-with some reservations, of course-by men who have had to get their mental gymnastics wholly and solely out of Chinese.
I am not aware that their diplomatists suffer by comparison with ours. The Marquis Tsêng and Li Hung-chang, for instance, representing opposite schools, were admitted masters of their craft, and made not a few of our own diplomatists look rather small beside them.
Speaking further of the study of the Greek and Roman classics, Sir Richard Jebb says: "There can be no better proof that such a discipline has penetrated the mind, and has been assimilated, than if, in the crises of life, a man recurs to the great thoughts and images of the literature in which he has been trained, and finds there what braces and fortifies him, a comfort, an inspiration, an utterance for his deeper feelings."
Sir Richard Jebb then quotes a touching story of Lord Granville, who was President of the Council in 1762, and whose last hours were rapidly approaching. In reply to a suggestion that, considering his state of health, some important work should be postponed, he uttered the following impassioned words from the Iliad, spoken by Sarpedon to Glaucus: "Ah, friend, if, once escaped from this battle, we were for ever to be ageless and immortal, I would not myself fight in the foremost ranks, nor would I send thee into the war that giveth men renown; but now,-since ten thousand fates of death beset us every day, and these no mortal may escape or avoid,-now let us go forward."
Such was the discipline of the Greek and Roman classics upon the mind of Lord Granville at a great crisis in his life.
Let us now turn to the story of a Chinese statesman, nourished only upon what has been too hastily stigmatised as "the dry bones of Chinese literature."
Wên T'ien-hsiang was born in A.D. 1236. At the age of twenty-one he came out first on the list of successful candidates for the highest literary degree. Upon the draft-list submitted to the Emperor he had been placed seventh; but his Majesty, after looking over the essays, drew the grand examiner's attention to the originality and excellence of that of Wên T'ien-hsiang, and the examiner-himself a great scholar and no sycophant-saw that the Emperor was right, and altered the places accordingly.
Four or five years later Wên T'ien-hsiang attracted attention by demanding the execution of a statesman who had advised that the Court should quit the capital and flee before the advance of the victorious Mongols. Then followed many years of hard fighting, in the course of which his raw levies were several times severely defeated, and he himself was once taken prisoner by the Mongol general, Bayan, mentioned by Marco Polo. He managed to escape on that occasion; but in 1278 the plague broke out in his camp, and he was again defeated and taken prisoner. He was sent to Peking, and every effort was made to induce him to own allegiance to the Mongol conqueror, but without success. He was kept several years in prison. Here is a well-known poem which he wrote while in captivity:-
"There is in the universe an Aura, an influence which permeates all things, and makes them what they are. Below, it shapes forth land and water; above, the sun and the stars. In man it is called spirit; and there is nowhere where it is not.
"In times of national tranquillity, this spirit lies hidden in the harmony which prevails. Only at some great epoch is it manifested widely abroad."
Here Wên T'ien-hsiang recalls, and dwells lovingly upon, a number of historical examples of loyalty and devotion. He then proceeds:-
"Such is this grand and glorious spirit which endureth for all generations; and which, linked with the sun and moon, knows neither beginning nor end. The foundation of all that is great and good in heaven and earth, it is itself born from the everlasting obligations which are due by man to man.
"Alas! the fates were against me; I was without resource. Bound with fetters, hurried away toward the north, death would have been sweet indeed; but that boon was refused.
"My dungeon is lighted by the will-o'-the-wisp alone: no breath of spring cheers the murky solitude in which I dwell. The ox and the barb herd together in one stall: the rooster and the phoenix feed together from one dish. Exposed to mist and dew, I had many times thought to die; and yet, through the seasons of two revolving years, disease hovered around me in vain. The dark, unhealthy soil to me became Paradise itself. For there was that within me which misfortune could not steal away. And so I remained firm, gazing at the white clouds floating over my head, and bearing in my heart a sorrow boundless as the sky.
"The sun of those dead heroes has long since set, but their record is before me still. And, while the wind whistles under the eaves, I open my books and read; and lo! in their presence my heart glows with a borrowed fire."
At length, Wên T'ien-hsiang was summoned into the presence of Kublai Khan, who said to him, "What is it you want?" "By the grace of his late Majesty of the Sung dynasty," he replied, "I became his Majesty's minister. I cannot serve two masters. I only ask to die." Accordingly he was executed, meeting his death with composure, and making a final obeisance toward the south, as though his own sovereign was still reigning in his capital.
May we not then plead that this Chinese statesman, equally with Lord Granville, at a crisis of his life, recurred to the great thoughts and images of the literature in which he had been trained, and found there what braced and fortified him, a comfort, an inspiration, an utterance for his deeper feelings?
Chinese history teems with the names of men who, with no higher source of inspiration than the Confucian Canon, have yet shown that they can nobly live and bravely die.
Han Yü of the eighth and ninth centuries was one of China's most brilliant statesmen and writers, and rose rapidly to the highest offices of State. When once in power, he began to attack abuses, and was degraded and banished. Later on, when the Court, led by a weak Emperor, was going crazy over Buddhism, he presented a scathing Memorial to the Throne, from the effect of which it may well be said that Buddhism has not yet recovered. The Emperor was furious, and Han Yü narrowly escaped with his life. He was banished to the extreme wilds of Kuangtung, not far from the now flourishing Treaty Port of Swatow, where he did so much useful work in civilising the aborigines, that he was finally recalled.
Those wilds have long since disappeared as such, but the memory of Han Yü remains, a treasure for ever. In a temple which contains his portrait, and which is dedicated to him, a grateful posterity has put up a tablet bearing the following legend, "Wherever he passed, he purified."
The last Emperor of the Ming dynasty, which was overthrown by rebels and then supplanted by the Manchus in 1644, was also a man who in the Elysian fields might well hold up his head among monarchs. He seems to have inherited with the throne a legacy of national disorder similar to that which eventually brought about the ruin of Louis XVI of France. With all the best intentions possible, he was unable to stem the tide. Over-taxation brought in its train, as it always does in China, first resistance and then rebellion. The Emperor was besieged in Peking by a rebel army; the Treasury was empty; there were too few soldiers to man the walls; and the capital fell.
On the previous night, the Emperor, who had refused to flee, slew the eldest Princess, commanded the Empress to commit suicide, and sent his three sons into hiding. At dawn the bell was struck for the Court to assemble; but no one came. His Majesty then ascended the well-known hill in the Palace grounds, and wrote a last decree on the lapel of his robe:-
"Poor in virtue, and of contemptible personality, I have incurred the wrath of high Heaven. My ministers have deceived me. I am ashamed to meet my ancestors; and therefore I myself take off my cap of State, and with my hair covering my face, await dismemberment at the hands of you rebels."
Instead of the usual formula, "Respect this!" the Emperor added, "Spare my people!"
He then hanged himself, and the great Ming dynasty was no more.
Chinese studies have always laboured under this disadvantage,-that the ludicrous side of China and her civilisation was the one which first attracted the attention of foreigners; and to a great extent it does so still. There was a time when China was regarded as a Land of Opposites, i.e. diametrically opposed to us in every imaginable direction. For instance, in China the left hand is the place of honour; men keep their hats on in company; use fans; mount their horses on the off side; begin dinner with fruit and end it with soup; shake their own instead of their friends' hands when meeting; begin at what we call the wrong end of a book and read from right to left down vertical columns; wear white for mourning; have huge visiting-cards instead of small ones; prevent criminals from having their hair cut; regard the south as the standard point of the compass; begin to build a house by putting on the roof first; besides many other nicer distinctions, the mere enumeration of which would occupy much of the time at my disposal.
The other side of the medal, showing the similarities, and even the identities, has been unduly neglected; and yet it is precisely from a study of these similarities and identities that the best results can be expected.
A glance at any good dictionary of classical antiquities will at once reveal the minute and painstaking care with which even the small details of life in ancient Greece have been examined into and discussed. The Chinese have done like work for themselves; and many of their beautifully illustrated dictionaries of archæology would compare not unfavourably with anything we have to show.
There are also many details of modern everyday existence in China which may fairly be quoted to show that Chinese civilisation is not, after all, that comic condition of topsy-turvey-dom which the term usually seems to connote.
The Chinese house may not be a facsimile of a Greek house,-far from it. Still, we may note its position, facing south, in order to have as much sun in winter and as little in summer as possible; its division into men's and women's apartments; the fact that the doors are in two leaves and open inward; the rings or handles on the doors; the portable braziers used in the rooms in cold weather; and the shrines of the household gods;-all of which characteristics are to be found equally in the Greek house.
There are also points of resemblance between the lives led by Chinese and Athenian ladies, beyond the fact that the former occupy a secluded portion of the house. The Chinese do not admit their women to social entertainments, and prefer, as we are told was the case with Athenian husbands, to dine by themselves rather than expose their wives to the gaze of their friends. If the Athenian dame "went out at all, it was to see some religious procession, or to a funeral; and if sufficiently advanced in years she might occasionally visit a female friend, and take breakfast with her."
And so in China, it is religion which breaks the monotony of female life, and collects within the temples, on the various festivals, an array of painted faces and embroidered skirts that present, even to the European eye, a not unpleasing spectacle.
That painting the face was universal among the women of Greece, much after the fashion which we now see in China, has been placed beyond all doubt, the pigments used in both cases being white lead and some kind of vegetable red, with lampblack for the eyebrows.
In marriage, we find the Chinese aiming, like the Greeks, at equality of rank and fortune between the contracting parties, or, as the Chinese put it, in the guise of a household word, at a due correspondence between the doorways of the betrothed couple. As in Greece, so in China, we find the marriage arranged by the parents; the veiled bride; the ceremony of fetching her from her father's house; the equality of man and wife; the toleration of subordinate wives, and many other points of contact.
The same sights and scenes which are daily enacted at any of the great Chinese centres of population seem also to have been enacted in the Athenian market-place, with its simmering kettles of boiled peas and other vegetables, and its chapmen and retailers of all kinds of miscellaneous goods. In both we have the public story-teller, surrounded by a well-packed group of fascinated and eager listeners.
The puppet-shows, ἀγάλματα νευρόσπαστα, which Herodotus tells us were introduced into Greece from Egypt, are constantly to be seen in Chinese cities, and date from the second century B.C.,-a suggestive period, as I shall hope to show later on.
The Chinese say that these puppets originated in China as follows:-
The first Emperor of the Han dynasty was besieged, about 200 B.C., in a northern city, by a vast army of Hsiung-nu, the ancestors of the Huns, under the command of the famous chieftain, Mao-tun. One of the Chinese generals with the besieged Emperor discovered that Mao-tun's wife, who was in command on one side of the city, was an extremely jealous woman; and he forthwith caused a number of wooden puppets, representing beautiful girls and worked by strings, to be exhibited on the wall overlooking the chieftain's camp. At this, we are told, the lady's fears for her husband's fidelity were aroused, and she drew off her forces.
The above account may be dismissed as a tale, in which case we are left with Punch and Judy on our hands.
To return to city sights. The tricks of street-jugglers as witnessed in China seem to be very much those of ancient Greece. In both countries we have such feats as jumping about amongst naked swords, spitting fire from the mouth, and passing a sword down the throat.
Then there are the advertisements on the walls; the mule-carts and mule-litters; the sunshades, or umbrellas, carried by women in Greece, by both sexes in China.
The Japanese language is said to contain no terms of abuse, so refined are the inhabitants of that earthly paradise. The Chinese language more than makes up for this deficiency; and it is certainly curious that, as in ancient Greece, the names of animals are not frequently used in this connection, with the sole exception of the dog. No Chinaman will stand being called a dog, although he really has a great regard for the animal, as a friend whose fidelity is proof even against poverty.
In the ivory shops in China will be found many specimens of the carver's craft which will bear comparison, for the patience and skill required, with the greatest triumphs of Greek workmen. Both nations have reproduced the human hand in ivory; the Greeks used it as an ornament for a hairpin; the Chinese attach it to a slender rod about a foot and a half in length, and use it as a back-scratcher.
The Chinese drama, which we can only trace vaguely to Central Asian sources, and no farther back than the twelfth century of our era, has some points of contact with the Greek drama. In Greece the plays began at sunrise and continued all day, as they do still on the open-air stages of rural districts in China, in both cases performed entirely by men, without interval between the pieces, without curtain, without prompter, and without any attempt at realism.
As formerly in Greece, so now in China, the words of the play are partly spoken and partly sung, the voice of the actor being, in both countries, of the highest importance. Like the Greek actor before masks were invented, the Chinese actor paints his face, and the thick-soled boot which raises the Chinese tragedian from the ground is very much the counterpart of the cothurnus.
The arrangement by which the Greek gods appeared in a kind of balcony, looking out as it were from the heights of Olympus, is well known to the Chinese stage; while the methodical character of Greek tragic dancing, with the chorus moving right and left, is strangely paralleled in the dances performed at the worship of Confucius in the Confucian temples, details of which may be seen in any illustrated Chinese encyclopædia.
Games with dice are of a high antiquity in Greece; they date in China only from the second century A.D., having been introduced from the West under the name of shu p'u, a term which has so far defied identification.
The custom of fighting quails was once a political institution in Athens, and under early dynasties it was a favourite amusement at the Imperial Court of China.
The game of "guess-fingers" is another form of amusement common to both countries. So also is the custom of drinking by rule, under the guidance of a toast-master, with fines of deep draughts of wine to be swallowed by those who fail in capping verses, answering conundrums, recognising quotations; to which may be added the custom of introducing singing-girls toward the close of the entertainment.
At Athens, too, it was customary to begin a drinking-bout with small cups, and resort to larger ones later on, a process which must be familiar to all readers of Chinese novels, wherein, toward the close of the revel, the half-drunken hero invariably calls for more capacious goblets. Neither does the ordinary Chinaman approve of a short allowance of wine at his banquets, as witness the following story, translated from a Chinese book of anecdotes.
A stingy man, who had invited some guests to dinner, told his servant not to fill up their wine-cups to the brim, as is usual. During the meal, one of the guests said to his host, "These cups of yours are too deep; you should have them cut down." "Why so?" inquired the host. "Well," replied the guest, "you don't seem to use the top part for anything."
There is another story of a man who went to dine at a house where the wine-cups were very small, and who, on taking his seat at table, suddenly burst out into groans and lamentations. "What is the matter with you?" cried the host, in alarm. "Ah," replied his guest, "my feelings overcame me. My poor father, when dining with a friend who had cups like yours, lost his life, by accidentally swallowing one."
The water-clock, or clepsydra, has been known to the Chinese for centuries. Where did it come from? Is it a mere coincidence that the ancient Greeks used water-clocks?
Is it a coincidence that the Greeks used an abacus, or counting-board, on which the beads slid up and down in vertical grooves, while on the Chinese counting-board the only difference is that the beads slide up and down on vertical rods?
Is it a mere coincidence that the olive should be associated in China, as in Greece, with propitiation? To this day, a Chinaman who wishes to make up a quarrel will send a piece of red paper containing an olive, in token of friendly feeling; and the acceptance of this means that the quarrel is at an end.
The olive was supposed by the Greeks to have been brought by Hercules from the land of the Hyperboreans; the Chinese say it was introduced into China in the second century B.C.
The extraordinary similarities between the Chinese and Pythagorean systems of music place it beyond a doubt that one must have been derived from the other. The early Jesuit fathers declared that the ancient Greeks borrowed their music from the Chinese; but we know now that the music in question did not exist in China until two centuries after its appearance in Greece.
The music of the Confucian age perished, books and instruments together, at the Burning of the Books, in B.C. 212; and we read that in the first part of the second century B.C. the hereditary music-master was altogether ignorant of his art. Where did the new art come from? And how are its Greek characteristics to be accounted for?
There are also equally extraordinary similarities between the Chinese and Greek calendars.
For instance, in B.C. 104 the Chinese adopted a cycle of nineteen years, a period which was found to bring together the solar and the lunar years.
But this is precisely the cycle, ἐννεακαιδεκαετηρίς, said to have been introduced by Meton in the fifth century B.C., and adopted at Athens about B.C. 330.
Have we here another coincidence of no particular importance?
The above list might be very much extended. Meanwhile, the question arises: Are there any records of any kind in China which might lead us to suppose that the Chinese ever came into contact in any way with the civilisation of ancient Greece?
We know from Chinese history that, so far back as the second century B.C., victorious Chinese generals carried their arms far into Central Asia, and succeeded in annexing such distant regions as Khoten, Kokand, and the Pamirs. About B.C. 138 a statesman named Chang Ch'ien was sent on a mission to Bactria, but was taken prisoner by the Hsiung-nu, the forebears of the Huns, and detained in captivity for over ten years. He finally managed to escape, and proceeded to Fergana, and thence on to Bactria, returning home in B.C. 126, after having been once more captured by the Hsiung-nu and again detained for about a year.
Now Bactria was then a Greek kingdom, which had been founded by Diodotus in B.C. 256; and it would appear to have had, already for some time, commercial relations with China, for Chang Ch'ien reported that he had seen Chinese merchandise exposed there in the markets for sale. We farther learn that Chang Ch'ien brought back with him the walnut and the grape, previously unknown in China, and taught his countrymen the art of making wine.
The wine of the Confucian period was like the wine of to-day in China, an ardent spirit distilled from rice. There is no grape-wine in China now, although grapes are plentiful and good. But we know from the poetry which has been preserved to us, as well as from the researches of Chinese archæologists, that grape-wine was largely used in China for many centuries subsequent to the date of Chang Ch'ien; in fact, down to the beginning of the fifteenth century, if not later.
One writer says it was brought, together with the "heavenly horse," from Persia, when the extreme West was opened up, a century or so before the Christian era, as already mentioned.
I must now make what may well appear to be an uncalled-for digression; but it will only be a temporary digression, and will bring us back in a few minutes to the grape, the heavenly horse, and to Persia.
Mirrors seem to have been known to the Chinese from the earliest ages. One authority places them so far back as 2500 B.C. They are at any rate mentioned in the Odes, say 800 B.C., and were made of polished copper, being in shape, according to the earliest dictionary, like a large basin.
About one hundred years B.C., a new kind of mirror comes into vogue, called by an entirely new name, not before used. In common with the word previously employed, its indicator is "metal," showing under which kingdom it falls,-i.e. a mirror of metal. These new mirrors were small disks of melted metal, highly polished on one side and profusely decorated with carvings on the other,-a description which exactly tallies with that of the ancient Greek mirror. Specimens survived to comparatively recent times, and it is even alleged that many of these old mirrors are in existence still. A large number of illustrations of them are given in the great encyclopædia of the eighteenth century, and the fifth of these, in chronological order, second century B.C., is remarkable as being ornamented with the well-known "key," or Greek pattern, so common in Chinese decoration.
Another is covered with birds flying about among branches of pomegranate laden with fruit cut in halves to show the seeds.
Shortly afterward we come to a mirror so lavishly decorated with bunches of grapes and vine-leaves that the eye is arrested at once. Interspersed with these are several animals, among others the lion, which is unknown in China. The Chinese word for "lion," as I stated in my first lecture, is shih, an imitation of the Persian shír. There is also a lion's head with a bar in its mouth, recalling the door-handles to temples in ancient Greece. Besides the snake, the tortoise, and the sea-otter, there is what is far more remarkable than any of these, namely, a horse with wings.
On comparing the latter with Pegasus as he appears in sculpture, it is quite impossible to doubt that the Chinese is a copy of the Greek animal. The former is said to have come down from heaven, and was caught, according to tradition, on the banks of a river in B.C. 120.
The name for pomegranate in China is "the Parthian fruit," showing that it was introduced from Parthia, the Chinese equivalent for Parthia being 安息 Ansik, which is an easy corruption of the Greek Ἀρσάκης, the first king of Parthia.
The term for grape is admittedly of foreign origin, like the fruit itself. It is 葡萄 pu t'ou. Here it is easy to recognise the Greek word Βότρυς, a cluster, or bunch, of grapes.
Similarly, the Chinese word for "radish," 蘿蔔 lo po, also of foreign origin, is no doubt a corruption of ῥάφη, it being of course well known that the Chinese cannot pronounce an initial r.
There is one term, especially, in Chinese which at once carries conviction as to its Greek origin. This is the term for watermelon. The two Chinese characters chosen to represent the sound mean "Western gourd," i.e. the gourd which came from the West. Some Chinese say, on no authority in particular, that it was introduced by the Kitan Tartars; others say that it was introduced by the first Emperor of the so-called Golden Tartars. But the Chinese term is still pronounced si kua, which is absolutely identical with the Greek word σικύα, of which Liddell and Scott say, "perhaps the melon." For these three words it would now scarcely be rash to substitute "the watermelon."
We are not on quite such firm ground when we compare the Chinese kalends and ides with similar divisions of the Roman month.
Still it is interesting to note that in ancient China, the first day of every month was publicly proclaimed, a sheep being sacrificed on each occasion; also, that the Latin word kalendae meant the day when the order of days was proclaimed.
Further, that the term in Chinese for ides means to look at, to see, because on that day we can see the moon; and also that the Latin word idus, the etymology of which has not been absolutely established, may possibly come from the Greek ἰδεῖν "to see," just as kalendae comes from καλεῖν "to proclaim."
As to many of the analogies, more or less interesting, to be found in the literatures of China and of Western nations, it is not difficult to say how they got into their Chinese setting.
For instance, we read in the History of the Ming Dynasty, A.D. 1368-1644, a full account of the method by which the Spaniards, in the sixteenth century, managed to obtain first a footing in, and then the sovereignty over, some islands which have now passed under the American flag. The following words, not quite without interest at the present day, are translated from the above-mentioned account of the Philippines:-
"The Fulanghis (i.e. the Franks), who at that time had succeeded by violence in establishing trade relations with Luzon (the old name of the Philippines), saw that the nation was weak, and might easily be conquered. Accordingly, they sent rich presents to the king of the country, begging him to grant them a piece of land as big as a bull's hide, for building houses to live in. The king, not suspecting guile, conceded their request, whereupon the Fulanghis cut the hide into strips and joined them together, making many hundreds of ten-foot measures in length; and then, having surrounded with these a piece of ground, called upon the king to stand by his promise. The king was much alarmed; but his word had been pledged, and there was no alternative but to submit. So he allowed them to have the ground, charging a small ground-rent as was the custom. But no sooner had the Fulanghis got the ground than they put up houses and ramparts and arranged their fire-weapons (cannon) and engines of attack. Then, seizing their opportunity, they killed the king, drove out the people, and took possession of the country."
It is scarcely credible that Chinese historians would have recorded such an incident unless some trick of the kind had actually been carried out by the Spaniards, in imitation of the famous classical story of the foundation of Carthage.
A professional writer of marvellous tales who flourished in the seventeenth century tells a similar story of the early Dutch settlers:-
"Formerly, when the Dutch were permitted to trade with China, the officer in command of the coast defences would not allow them, on account of their great numbers, to come ashore. The Dutch begged very hard for the grant of a piece of land such as a carpet would cover; and the officer above mentioned, thinking that this could not be very large, acceded to their request. A carpet was accordingly laid down, big enough for about two people to stand on; but by dint of stretching, it was soon able to accommodate four or five; and so the foreigners went on, stretching and stretching, until at last it covered about an acre, and by and by, with the help of their knives, they had filched a piece of ground several miles in extent."
These two stories must have sprung from one and the same source. It is not, however, always so simple a matter to see how other Western incidents found their way into Chinese literature. For instance, there is a popular anecdote to be found in a Chinese jest-book, which is almost word for word with another anecdote in Greek literature:-
A soldier, who was escorting a Buddhist priest, charged with some crime, to a prison at a distance, being very anxious not to forget anything, kept saying over and over the four things he had to think about, viz.: himself, his bundle, his umbrella, and the priest. At night he got drunk, and the Buddhist priest, after first shaving the soldier's head, ran away. When the soldier awaked, he began his formula, "Myself, bundle, umbrella-O dear!" cried he, putting his hands to his head, "the priest has gone. Stop a moment," he added, finding his hands in contact with a bald head, "here's the priest; it is I who have run away."
As found in Greek literature, the story, attributed to Hierocles, but probably much later, says that the prisoner was a bald-headed man, a condition which is suggested to the Chinese reader by the introduction of a Buddhist priest.
Whether the Chinese got this story from the Greeks, or the Greeks got it from the Chinese, I do not pretend to know. The fact is that we students of Chinese at the present day know very little beyond the vague outlines of what there is to be known. Students of Greek have long since divided up their subject under such heads as pure scholarship, history, philosophy, archæology, and then again have made subdivisions of these. In the Chinese field nothing of the kind has yet been done. The consequence is that the labourers in that field, compelled to work over a large superficies, are only able to turn out more or less superficial work. The cry is for more students, practical students of the written and colloquial languages, for the purposes of diplomatic intercourse and the development of commerce; and also students of the history, philosophy, archæology, and religions of China, men whose contributions to our present stock of knowledge may throw light upon many important points, which, for lack of workmen, have hitherto remained neglected and unexplored.