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book, is always consulted in the last resort: that is to say, when in cases of difficulty other authorities fail, or are inapplicable, the Chinese philosophers betake themselves to augury or divination.
The next of the canonical books in point of authority is the Chouking, which is a book containing a few sublime truths, scattered amidst a mass of the wildest ravings on the subjects of philosophy and morality. The Chouking represents Tien, or God Almighty, as a great spirit, residing in heaven, who created the world and all that it contains; who continually watches over the government of the universe; who delights in virtue and abhors vice; and who penetrates even the secrets of the heart. But the Chouking, amidst these venerable truths, informs man that the surest method of discovering the will of the Supreme Being is, in all cases of difficulty, to consult the augury of the Tortoise. If the grandees, the ministers, and the people should be of one opinion, says the Chouking, and you of another, provided the judgment of the Tortoise is on your side, your counsel will succeed. Divination, in short, seems the ultimatum of the Chinese religion and philosophy. The other three kings, or canonical books, are equally absurd with those we have mentioned. There is an abstract of each of them to be found in Duhalde's description of China, a collection which contains the most authentic information as to everything that regards this empire; as authentic, at least, as can be obtained from the accounts of those Jesuit missionaries, who are not without reason suspected of very great exaggerations.
The morality of the Chinese has been much the
subject of encomium, and it must be owned that the writings of some of their philosophers, of which we have many extracts in Duhalde's collection, contain excellent notions of the relative duties of man in every state of society. But how little do the speculative notions, or the precepts of a few philosophers, influence the practice and the manners of a people! If we believe the accounts of authors best worthy of credit, there is not, on the face of the earth, a nation whose public manners are more depraved, nor any people in whose dealings with each other, or with strangers, there is less regard to honesty, to truth, or good faith.
In all the common intercourse of life the morals of the Chinese are beyond measure depraved. Father Amyot, who is in some respects a very high panegyrist of this nation, makes no scruple to declare that all ranks of the people have no other principles of conduct than interest and the fear of punishment. Commerce, which in other countries is carried on upon the basis of a mutual good faith between the parties contracting, proceeds in China upon this presumption, that all men are knaves and cheats. The author of the excellent narrative of Anson's "Voyage round the World" has given a picture of the morals of the Chinese from facts incontestable, because witnessed by the whole of his crew. The imputation of fraud, treachery, and inhumanity he does not confine to the lower classes of the people, for the facts which he mentions show that even the magistrates, officers, and guardians of the laws countenance the chicanery and villany of their inferiors, and partake of their profits.
From this estimate of the genius and character of the Chinese, drawn from an examination of the state of the sciences, of the arts, of the government and laws of their empire, and of their progress in religion, philosophy, and morality, we may conclude, upon the whole, that the Chinese are a very remarkable people; that every thing in China exhibits the traces of an ancient and early-civilized empire; and that in many respects the people merit the praise both of ingenuity and industry. But when the antiquity of this empire is pretended to be carried back for many thousands of years, and its history, during all that period, affirmed to be authenticated by the most incontrovertible evidence; when that people are supposed have been for thousands of years able proficients in sciences, of which at this day they are shamefully ignorant; when they are held out as the inventors of arts, of which they have not yet learnt the most obvious uses and improvements; when a government and laws are vaunted as supremely excellent, which countenance the greatest enormities, and are insufficient to restrain the worst of crimes; and when that nation is praised for the perfection of its morality, where fraud, injustice, and inhumanity characterize the bulk of the people, and influence both their transactions with strangers and with each other, we must conclude that their panegyrists have wasted their time and talents in drawing a very false and exaggerated picture, which the evidence of a few facts totally discredits, and which, even independent of these opposing facts, could not be supported upon the basis of common probability.
About the middle of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese discovered the Japanese empire, which consists of several islands on the eastern coast of Asia, between thirty and forty degrees of north latitude. These islands form an extensive and even a polished state, which, for about a century and a half, has sequestrated itself from all connexion with foreigners, and subsists in peace, tranquillity, and splendour upon its own internal riches. This was not always the case. The character of the Japanese, active and enterprising, and at the same time of a bold, free, and open disposition, led them to encourage the resort of foreigners to their ports, and they formerly equipped fleets of their own, which traded to the neighbouring coast of China and the Philippine Islands; but the insatiable ambition of the Europeans, and their destructive policy, have produced that change which I mention, and secluded them for ever from any connexion with the empire of Japan.
The Spaniards, soon after they obtained the sovereignty of Portugal, availed themselves of the discovery of these islands, and began to carry on an immense trade to the coast of Japan. The Japanese were fond of this intercourse, and the emperor encouraged it; but this favourable disposition was nothing more than an incentive to the ambition of the Spaniards to aim at the absolute sovereignty of the country. For this purpose they began by their usual mode of employing missionaries to convert the idolatrous Japanese to the Christian religion. Legions of priests were sent over, and so zealous were they in their function, that towards the end of the sixteenth century they
boasted that the number of their new converts amounted to no less than six hundred thousand. The priests of the country, finding their interest daily decaying, were as zealous to preserve their ancient religion as the missionaries to destroy it. They represented the missionaries to the emperor as incendiaries, who came to sow dissensions in his dominions, and had already set the one half of his subjects at mortal enmity with the other. Political tenets, it may be believed, had mingled themselves with religious notions, and the emperor was very justly apprehensive that this fervour shown by the Spaniards and Portuguese for the conversion of his subjects was but a preparative to their designs against the empire itself: he found it necessary, in the year 1586, to forbid the exercise of the Christian religion by a public edict, reserving still to the Spaniards and the Portuguese the liberty of a free trade in his dominions. The Spaniards were not satisfied. Some cordeliers were sent from the Philippine Islands' on an embassy to the emperor, and they began to build a Christian church in his capital city of Meaco. The consequence was, they were driven out by force of arms. Still, however, the indulgence of the emperor allowed these foreigners a free trade till the year 1637, when a Spanish ship happened to be taken by the Dutch, near the Cape of Good Hope, on board of which were found letters from a Portuguese officer to the court of Spain, containing the project of a conspiracy for dethroning and putting to death the emperor of Japan and seizing the government. The Dutch were jealous of the lucrative trade carried on by the Spaniards in this country, and immediately conveyed