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there, as in other countries, to vice, but is more restrained by the laws. All the poor in this extensive empire are maintained at the expense of government. A certain modesty and decorum softens and tempers the manners of the Chinese, and this gentleness and civility reaches even to the lowest class of the people. In China, the laws not only inflict punishment on criminal actions, but they reward virtue. This morality and this submission to the laws, joined to the worship of a Supreme Being, constitute the religion of China, as professed by the emperor and men of literature. Confutzee, or Confucius, who flourished two thousand three hundred years ago, was the founder of this religion, which consists in being just and beneficent. He has no divine honours paid to himself, but he has such as a man deserves who has given the purest ideas that human nature, unassisted by revelation, can form of the Supreme Being. Yet various sects of idolaters are tolerated in China, as a grosser sort of food is proper for the nourishment of the vulgar."
Such is the picture of this eastern empire, drawn by M. de Voltaire and the Abbé Raynal. To show what portion of it belongs to historic truth, and what to the imagination of its authors, we shall consider separately the state of the sciences in China, the state of the arts, the government and laws of this empire, and the progress of the Chinese in religion, philosophy, and morality.
First, with regard to the state of the sciences. "The prodigious antiquity of the Chinese empire," says M. de Voltaire, "is authenticated
beyond a doubt by astronomical observations, particularly by the series of eclipses of the sun, going back so far as two thousand one hundred and fiftyfive years before our vulgar era." The evidence of this fact of the series of eclipses, it is to be observed, in the first place, rests upon the authority of certain Jesuits, who, travelling as missionaries into that empire, from which it is a piece of national policy to exclude all strangers, were obliged to court and purchase the privilege of residence in the country by the grossest flattery and adulation of the emperor. Some of these, being men of science, were employed to examine and to put in order the astronomical apparatus in the Observatory of Pekin, and to teach their learned men the use of those instruments of which they were possessed, but of which they were grossly ignorant. These Jesuits themselves relate that, about the beginning of the last century, the science of astronomy was so low among the Chinese, that some of their mathematicians, having made a false calculation of an eclipse, upon being accused to the emperor, defended themselves by saying, that their whole calendar was erroneous. The Jesuits were hereupon employed to rectify it —a circumstance which gained them no small credit in the empire.
Now, let it be supposed that a modern mathematician, having access to the Chinese astronomical observations, should find that most of those eclipses recorded were calculated with accuracy, it may be asked, what, after all, would this prove? Any ordinary mathematician, who can calculate a
single eclipse, can calculate backwards a whole series of them for thousands of years. Thus any man who wished to compile a history fictitious from beginning to end, might, while sitting in his closet, in this way authenticate every remarkable event by eclipses and astronomical observations which would stand the strictest scrutiny. Thus every event in the famous history of Arthur and his Round Table, or of the Seven Champions of Christendom, might have its date authenticated by eclipses and astronomical observations, and consequently (according to the argument of M. de Voltaire) be entitled to the credit of a history as incontestable as the annals of China.
But to come to a more particular examination of this boasted knowledge of the Chinese in astronomy, let us attend, in the first place, to a few facts. In the year 1670, the Chinese astronomers had gone so totally wrong in their calculations, that by a false intercalation the year was found to consist of thirteen months. To remedy this error, an imperial edict was issued for the printing of forty-five thousand new almanacs, three thousand of which were distributed in each province of the empire.
For above two hundred years, what is termed the Tribunal of Mathematics in China has been filled, not by native Chinese, but by Mahometans and Jesuits. It is these men who have made all their astronomical calculations, and had the charge of the Chinese Observatory. There are, indeed, some nominal professors of astronomy among the Chinese themselves, but these are so grossly
ignorant as to adhere with great obstinacy to an ancient opinion, that the earth is of a square figure.
Before the arrival of the Jesuits, it is acknowledged that the Chinese were possessed of astronomical instruments, and pretended to make observations on the heavens. The possession of these instruments is urged as an argument of very considerable proficiency in astronomy and mechanics, and the argument is apparently a good one. But let us remark one fact: the latitude of Pekin is thirty-nine degrees, fifty-five minutes, and fifteen seconds-the latitude of Nankin thirty-two degrees, four minutes, and three seconds; yet all the sun-dials and astronomical instruments, both at Pekin and Nankin, are constructed for the latitude of thirty-six degrees: so that it is absolutely impossible that the Chinese could have made a single just observation at either of these capitals of the empire. A very probable conjecture has been formed with regard to the cause of this singularity. The city of Balk in Bactriana (now Bucharia) is situated in the thirty-sixth degree of north latitude. The sciences began to be cultivated in this city by the Greeks, who, having obtained the government of this province, under the successors of Alexander the Great, shook off their dependence, and founded a pretty extensive empire. In the time that China was governed by the first dynasty of the Tartar princes, these instruments, made for the latitude of Balk, have been transported to China, and the Chinese have at that time acquired some smattering of their use. Hence the origin of one of the most absurd and disgraceful errors, which the Jesuits
acknowledge was maintained by all the Chinese astronomers, that the whole cities of China were situated in the thirty-sixth degree of latitude. As for longitude, they had not the most distant idea of it; yet these are the people who are said to have cultivated the science of astronomy for four thousand years, and whose history is authenticated, beyond a doubt, by a course of celestial observations begun before the deluge!
The knowledge of the Chinese mandarins has been highly extolled by the admirers of this eastern nation; and much has been said of those rigid examinations which are undergone before the admission into this office and dignity. Supposing this to be a fact, the reason of these scrupulous trials is very obvious. It arises from the nature of the Chinese language and structure of its characters. It would be no difficult matter, in most countries, to be convinced in a few minutes whether a person is able to read and write. To discover this in China requires a very tedious examination. It is requisite, for instance, to the office of a mandarin, that he should be acquainted with ten thousand characters. He must, therefore, be examined on them all before the extent of his knowledge is ascertained; and still a more tedious inquisition is necessary, to know how many of these characters he can write. But all this rigorous examination is in fact a fiction. It is notorious that the office of mandarin is venal in China, as are most other offices; nor is any other qualification necessary than the ability to advance a handsome sum of money.
There is no science more cultivated by the