Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

have brought to a greater degree of perfection than any other nation who have attempted to imitate them in it, is the manufacture of porcelain or China ware. The superior excellence of the Chinese porcelain to any that is made in Europe seems to consist in the intrinsic superiority of the materials which they employ. In point of beauty, the porcelain of Dresden, that of Sèvres, in France, and that of Derby, in England, are incomparably superior to anything that China has produced. There is more taste displayed in the form of the utensils; there is a greater beauty and variety in the colours; and the painting is such as the Chinese artists are in no capacity to rival: but the substance of the manufacture itself is inferior, it is more brittle and less capable of enduring a sudden heat; it partakes more of the nature of glass, and is in fact a different substance from the porcelain of China. The European manufacturers have not been able to discover a clay so pure, so white, or so fine in its consistency, as that which the Chinese employ, and they have been obliged to use too much of the flinty and vitrifiable substances, which makes the European porcelain approach more to the nature of enamel.

The government and laws of the Chinese have afforded to their admirers another subject of the most unbounded eulogium.

All authors agree in representing the emperor of China as absolute in the most unlimited sense of the word; but the encomiasts of the Chinese have veiled the despotism of their government under the more flattering appellation of a patriarchal con

stitution. The emperor, say they, is considered as the father of his people, who regard him as entitled to the same implicit obedience that a parent is entitled to exact from his children. The mandarins, or great officers of state, are the substitutes of the emperor, whose care it is to enforce this obedience: but the patriarchal system pervades the whole, and in all matters that regard not the public interest, or that of the sovereign, every father is judge in his own family, and his power is absolute over his children. With whatever name this extraordinary constitution may be dignified, it is evidently nothing else than a blind and lawless despotism. Let us observe a few particulars upon the authority of Duhalde, Le Comte, and some of the historians of this empire who are most worthy of credit.

There is not a subject of this empire, says Duhalde, Chinese or Tartar, from the meanest peasant to the highest of the grandees, whom the emperor may not, at his pleasure, order to be bastinadoed. This despotic authority runs through every rank of the state, and each is entitled to tyrannise over his inferiors, as he himself is subjected to the tyranny of those who are above him. Upon the suspicion of treason, every viceroy has the power of inflicting capital punishment instantly, and without the necessity of any trial. We know, by our own laws, how extensive is the interpretation of the crime of treason, and may guess how easy it must be for judges invested with such discretionary powers to wrest almost every possible crime so as to bring it under that deno, mination.

VOL VI.

с

There is, it is true, in China a system of written laws, which, it may be supposed, are a fixed rule of conduct for all judges and magistrates in the exercise of their duty but one circumstance renders these laws of very little avail: this is, that all the courts of judicature in China are supreme. There is no appeal from any sentence to a superior jurisdiction, and consequently no restraint upon judges against the commission of the greatest iniquity and oppression. Nay, in civil causes there are no laws whatever which regulate the decisions of their courts. Everything is in the breast of the judges, those mandarins whose offices are bought and sold, and consequently supplied often by men equally worthless and ignorant.

There is nothing more barbarous in the prosecution of crimes in China than that custom borrowed from the Scythians, by which all the relations of a criminal, to the ninth degree, are subjected to the same punishment as the offender himself. The husband suffers for the guilt of his wife, the father for that of his children. Where the father is dead, the eldest son is responsible for all the younger, and each for each.

"The religion of China," says M. de Voltaire, "is of two kinds: one which, like a grosser species of food, is very proper for the vulgar, the other professed only by men of sense, the literati, the bonzes, and the emperor. The first is allowed to be the most superstitious and absurd idolatry; the other, natural religion, or the belief of one allpowerful and benevolent Being, whose most acceptable worship is the practice of virtue." It would,

I imagine, be not a little difficult to discover a good political reason for this fact-(supposing it to be one) of the Chinese government authorising two species of religion so totally opposite and contradictory as pure deism and gross idolatry. If the emperor, the bonzes, and the literati judge the worship of one great and benevolent Being to be a more rational system of religion than that idolatry which is practised by the common people, what political reason should prevent them from instructing these likewise in that rational religion, instead of encouraging them in the most absurd and degrading superstition? It will not be pretended that the worship of one almighty Being is less proper to restrain the people in the path of their duty, or to encourage good morals, than the worship of idols. But the least reflection will convince us that the fact itself is utterly incredible. There may be in China, as there are, perhaps, in all nations, various and very opposite opinions in matters of religion; but that the law or the government should authorise different and the most opposite religions for separate classes of men-one for the mechanics and another for the magistrates-is a statement which would require very strong authority to entitle it to belief. That religion would soon lose its obligation upon the vulgar which they perceived to be universally disregarded by their superiors.

The advocates of the wisdom of the Chinese in matters of religion appeal to evidence in support of their opinion, and tell us that the Chinese are possessed of five canonical books or kings, which furnish the clearest proof of a most pure and re

fined theology, very different from those superstitions which they allow to be entertained and practised by the vulgar. Let us, therefore, on the supposition of these books containing the substance of their theological dogmas, examine a little into their nature and contents.

The first of these canonical books-the oldest and most respectable in point of authority-is the book or table of the Yking. This Yking, which has been held forth as a mysterious receptacle of the most profound knowledge, and is on that account allowed in China to be consulted only by the sect of the learned, is now known to be nothing else than a superstitious and childish device for fortune-telling or divination. It is a table on which there are sixty-four marks or lines, one-half short and the other long, placed at regular intervals. Th person who consults the Yking for divining some future event takes a number of small pieces of rod, and throwing them down at random, observes carefully how their accidental position corresponds to the marks on the table, from which, according to certain established rules, he predicts either good or bad fortune. These rules, it is said, were laid down by the great Confucius, the chief of the Chinese philosophers,—a circumstance which does not tend to increase his reputation. The Jesuit missionaries, who could not root out these prejudices, thought it their best policy to turn them to advantage; and in endeavouring to propagate the doctrines of Christianity, they pretended that Confucius had actually predicted the coming of the Messiah by this table of the Yking. This venerable table, or canonical

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »