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equally ignorant and incurious, the civil and military mandarins pafs their lives in performing the duties of their ftations, and have neither time to read nor write; the occupations of the former are numerous, and the imperial fword hangs over their head, fufpended by a hair, to punish the least instances of inattention and negligence; and the books of the latter are their arms and their foldiers. Even at Pekin, literature is as little known among the people as in the provinces; the court, bufinefs, and commerce, abforb the attention and activity of the citizens; and even the literati are so influenced by the tone of the government, that they do not fo much as correct the ftile of pieces that are daily reprefented, though they have been compofed a thousand years ago.
What farther difcourages the learned, is the total nonexiftence of literary fame in China; the emulation of letters in Europe forms a fpecies of national glory, and kingdoms vie with kingdoms in this career, as well as in those of commerce and arms. The Chinese are furrounded by barbarous nations, and though they might find within themfelves, (province vying with province) fprings and incentives to literary emulation, the political fyftem forbids all competition and conflict of this kind, and its guardians maintain, that rivality of talents corrupted the ancient doctrine of the dynafty of the Tcheou, engendered a thousand errors, fowed the feeds of divifion and revolt, and converted into problems the most useful truths and the moft effential duties. Accordingly, the firft literati are only encouraged to do bufinefs, and even in their literary labours they are obliged to work in concert in the compofitions with which they are charged. Add to this, that while the books in China are multiplied beyond number, and the life of a man is insufficient for the perufal of the Grand Annals alone, the fortunes of private perfons are too fmall and too fluctuating to admit of their making collections of books. The fon of a minister or of a general, returns after the death of his father, into the obfcure clafs of citizens, unless perfonal merit gives him admiffion to high employments, and thus he cannot even keep the collections. of books that have been made by his parents. The magiftrates moreover, and the grand officers of the empire, being almoft in perpetual motion from one province to another, is a great obftacle to the formation of libraries. And though the Bonzeries in which the government depofits the rareft manufcripts and the moft precious collection of books and records, are rich fources of information; yet they are fituated in the mountains at a confiderable diftance from the great cities, where a man of learning, whose family and affairs demand his attention, has neither the time nor the courage to follow them. It is only a difgraced
mandarin, or an unconnected philofopher, that can resolve to go fo far in queft of knowlege.
One would think indeed, that the Han-lin, which the European miffionaries compare with the academy of fciences at Paris, might render fucceísful, refearches into the first periods of the Chinese monarchy; but this academical body, which, by its access to the choiceft treasures of learning, is alone capable of treating accurately the nobleft fubjects, avoids looking back to thefe remote periods, difdaining the frivolous glory of gathering clouds of erudition, from whence no ray of light or truth comes forth to clear up the hiftory of the firft Dynafties, and contenting themfelves with collecting the papers, that relate to the different fyftems of chronology, without adopting any hypothefis on a fubject fo ambiguous and obfcure.
All this fhews, that our Author is not an abettor of the fyftem, that carries the Chinese annals far beyond the period to which the fcripture chronology affigns the creation of this globe; as will appear more particularly when we come to examine the principal part of this memoir.
In the fecond article, preparatory to this difcuffion, the Author, under the general title of Ancient Chinefe Books and Monuments, gives an account of the Characters of the Chinese writings, of the rife and progrefs of the fciences in China, which he dates from the Grand Dynafty of Tcheou, about 1200 years before the Chriftian æra. He then proceeds to take
notice of the four claffes into which the ancient books of China are divided, and gives a moft tiresome and uninstructive detail of what the critics have faid concerning thefe books,-the refult of which is, that the most of these ancient books are a motley heap of forgeries and fables, interfperfed with fublime pieces of poetry, and excellent precepts of morality; and that thofe of the collection, whofe authority is the most respected, have no fufficient marks of authenticity. This is abundantly evident from the confeffion of our Author relative to the ChouKing, which is fuppofed to be the most ancient of the Chinefe books, "That it is unknown, and cannot be conjectured from what the writer fays of himself, when, how or by whom it was compofed.
From the difcuffion into which our Author here enters, it appears evident, that there is no fort of credit to be given to what has been affirmed with fuch oftentation and ignorance of the ancient hiftory and chronology of China. Historical facts and chronological dates, cannot be afcertained otherwife than by books, medals, infcriptions, coins, fepulchral monuments, and depofitories of this kind. Now it is well known, that in the year 213 before the Chriftian æra, all these were devoted to deftruction by a tyrannical Emperor, who aimed at nothing less
than burying in eternal oblivion, every thing that had paffed before his time, and determined that there fhould be throughout the Chinese empire, no earlier record, date, or authority relative to religion, fcience or politics, than thofe of his reign. In the execution of this defign, all the ancient books were burnt, inscriptions were effaced, fepulchral monuments were deftroyed, and hundreds of learned men perifhed in this hideous devaftation. Little was faved in this general ruin, of the writings anterior to the reign of this odious tyrant *, and perhaps nothing that can throw light upon the remote periods of antiquity. This cataftrophe would not have had fuch a fatal effect on the hiftorical credit of the accounts of the firft Dynasties of China, had the records of that empire been communicated to or ftudied by the neighbouring nations; but this has never been the cafe, as the grofieft ignorance has always reigned in those parts of the globe.
It is, however, to be obferved, that fome ancient books, records, and monuments efcaped by chance, or by the care of individuals, from this general and odious coaflagration. The reigning Emperor has ordered all fuch remains as have been thus faved, or difcovered in after times, down to the prefent, to be engraven, and they make a collection of forty-two volumes. But the most ancient vafes and monuments of this collection go no farther up than the Dynafty of Chang (which is to be placed in the xivth century before Chrift, if not in the xiiith.) and even thefe are enriched with but a fmall number of characters, which it is very difficult to decypher, and which after all, afford little nor nothing to enlighten the darkness of ancient hiftory. The Author of this memoir regrets, among the other effects of this devaftation, the lofs of the Pei or marbles, which the Jews on their arrival in China, about the conclufion of the Dynafty of the Tcheou, erected in the fynagogue at Kai-fong-fou. "The long infcriptions (fays he) with
which they were enriched, fhewed, as tradition reports, the "exact correfpondence of their history and chronology with "ours;" i. e. with the Chinefe, for it is one or both of the natives of China, mentioned at the beginning of this extract, that hold the pen in the memoir before us, and they hold it in perfect concert with the miffionaries of Pekin, and appear zealoufly attached to the Chriftian religion, which they are actually employed in preaching to their brethren. But it is granted, there may be sceptical people, who will be apt to carp at this very circumftance.
In the following article, our Authors give a brief account of the principal writers who have (fince the deftruction of the
* Tfn-chi-hoang- otherwife called, Chi-bang-ti.
books and records already related) composed the History of the firft Periods of the Chinese Empire. They fhew that the recovery of the ancient records, mentioned fo often by European writers, to favour their fyftems, is a matter that has been ill understood; that the books collected by the Emperor Ou-ti of the dynasty of Han, were modern, and that the policy of the Emperors from the incendiary Tfin ch-Hoang down to all his fucceffors in the dynasty of Han, was in direct opposition to every attempt to recover ancient records, which would have difplayed the iniquity of their ufurpations and pretenfions, and opened the eyes of the inferior princes and people upon the rights, privileges, and felicity, they had loft. They fhew, that the Imperial Court did not dare to risk the undertaking of a general hiftory of the monarchy from its first foundation, before the remembrance of the ancient annals, and all poffibility of recovering them were removed; and, accordingly, that this undertaking was only proposed about the year 104 before Jefus Chrift, when See-ma-tfien was intrufted by the Emperor with that work, and, in that quality, placed at the head of the tribunal of hiftory. The hiftory of this Writer confifted of 130 books, and in three of these all the ancient history of China, as far down as the year 1122 before Chrift, was comprehended. Nay, it is farther to be remarked, that the Grand Annals, though they are already fwelled to the bulk of 668 volumes, without having reached the prefent dynafty, comprehend all the ancient hiftory of China, from the foundation of the empire to the dynafty of Tcheou (which begins with the year 1222 before Chrift) in one fingle volume. This is fufficient to fhew the fterility of the ancient records. Our Authors allege many proofs of this, and it is confirmed by a circumftance, which is ascertained by the unanimous teftimonies and complaints of the learned, that fince See-ma-tfien not one record, monument, or manufcript, has been difcovered, that relates to any part of the Chinese hiftory prior to the dynafty
We fhall not follow our Authors thro' their learned accounts of fucceeding hiftorians, Pan-kou, See-ma-tchin, See-makouang, Lieou-jou, Kinchi, and Lopi, nor thro' the fabulous ages, which exhibit such a motley heap of gigantic mythological abfurdities and contradictions, as muft aftonifh the imagination and afflict the heart of the benevolent obferver of man in the endless variety of his errors and follies. The Deift would do well to eye with attention this hideous picture of religious opinions undirected by the light of divine revelation. Accuftomed to the view of the falutary effects of chriftianity on our national fyftems of religion, and to the encomiums beftowed on the ancient writers of Greece and Rome as models of genius, eloquence, and taste, that have
concealed, more or lefs, by their luftre, the motley mass of vulgar errors, we have not perhaps a fuitable impreffion of the difmal state of unaffifted nature, nor of the happiness we enjoy, by living under a difpenfation of religion, which has a more intimate connection with the progrefs of universal science than we are apt to imagine.
Having thus prepared the way for the great question, at what period of time we are to place the commencement of the empire of China? our Authors difcufs it with the greatest eloquence and erudition; and, if we are not mistaken, they give a mortal blow to the pretended antiquity of the Chinese empire, and the authenticity of its ancient hiftory. They prove that all the historical relations of events prior to the reign of Yao (2057 years before Chrift) are entirely fabulous, compofed in modern times, unfupported by authentic records, and full of contradictions; and that neither the King, nor the books of Confucius and his difciples, make the leaft inention of any genealogies or princes before Yao. They alfo prove that any authentic accounts we have of Yao, Chun, and Yu, concur in evincing that the origin of the Chinese empire cannot be placed higher than one or two generations before Yao. This they demonftrate by entering into a long and learned detail concerning the geography, the government, the manners, the population, the arts, the fciences, and the religion of China, in the times of Yao, Chun, and Yu,
The piece that follows this Memoir, is a letter concerning the Chinese characters; by the Rev. Father ****, of the company of Jefus. This letter was fent from Pekin to the Royal Society of London, in the year 1764; and we gave an account of its principal contents, and of the occafion on which it was written, in Vol. xliv. p. 317, 318, &c. of our Review, to which we refer the reader.
The monument, which relates to the conqueft of the Eleuths, is an historical poem, from whence particularities may be drawn that give some idea of the state, manners, and fpirit of the Tartars. The Eleuths, fituated to the north-west of China, were, together with the other Mongul or Mungl tribes, more or less fubjected to the Chahar Kan, but became at length independent, and are, at present, the most numerous of all the great branches into which the Monguls are divided. They grew formidable in the last century, and, from time to time, made frequent attacks even upon the frontiers of China; and tho' often repulfed by the arms of that nation, always faved themselves by flight, or ftratagem, and still renewed their incurfions. In the midst of their profperity and power, their government was enfeebled by inteftine divifions, which were artfully fomented by the Emperor of China. A confiderable part of the nation furrendered themfelves as vaffals to this prince, (Kien-long the prefent emperor of Nn China)
APP. Rev, Vol. Iv.