The Boxer Rebellion Project


A Presentation of China and the Chinese by Reverend T. C. Skeggs (circa 1880)

Reverend Thomas C. Skeggs, of 14, Fitzwarren Street, Pendleton, Manchester (according to Phantasms of the Living, by Edmund Gurney, Frederic William Henry Myers, Frank Podmore) visited China in the 1870s. Upon his return, Skeggs presumably delivered several presentations on China and the Chinese in the early 1880s. The following presentation is from his manuscript presentation. Missing are photographs and other items that Reverend Skeggs would have presented to the audience. Original spelling respected.

China and the Chinese

In speaking to my friends about China there is no point they fail to grasp so much as its enormous extent. For instance it has been no uncommon thing for a person to ask me: “Did you know so & so; he lived in Canton?” knowing that I was at Shanghae. Canton is about as far from Shanghae as London from St. Petersburg.

 I shall first then allude to China in relation to its extent, its population and as far as I am acquantied with it the appearance of the country.

The second division of my subject will lead me to speak of the Chinese

1st as a nation

2nd of their character

3rd of their daily life.

China is about 18 times as large as Great Britain & contains a population of about 400 millions of people or one third of the population of the world. The country is not so thickly covered with people as you might think from the figures. The people crowd together in large towns. In Shanghai, not larger than Pendleton, 800,000 souls. Between the towns, there are immense tracts of waste ground like prairies, filled with game. The country in every direction is well watered by grand rivers which afford the principal means of communication. No railways & no roads. Only narrow paths as in the diagram. In the south that is taking a line westward from Canton the country is mountainous and about the only part of China that is really dangerous for a foreigner to travel in. It is in this section, in the province of Yunnan, that Mr Margary was murdered while attempting to find a pass through China from Burmah in 1874.

A second line drawn through from Shanghae westward would pass through an immense plain so flat that you might travel hundreds of miles without meeting any rising ground with the exception of a group of hills (Fung wan shan) which rise abruptly to a little more than the height of Shotover.

A third line drawn in the same direction through Pekin would pass through a mountainous district & through a colder climate where the race grows larger and stronger. Of course a country extending over so many latitudes differs widely in climate. In our most southern division the climate is tropical and is a perpetual summer. In the central section the summers are intensely hot, as trying to a European as the south but the sinters are piercing cold; here with but few variations the wind blows for 6 months in one direction & 6 months in the opposite i.e. March to Sept. S.W. Sept to Mar. N.E. and, with the exception of an occasional thunderstorm in summer, rains but twice a year, in May & Sept. When it does begin it keeps on incessantly for 6 weeks. In the north the winters are very severe. Pekin is blocked up for 4 months with ice. Trade of course is at a standstill and no one attempts a journey except the Imperial runners with the ministerial despatches.

With this slight sketch of the country let us pass to its inhabitants. In considering them as a nation their form of government first calls for attention. It is Imperial, paternal rather than despotic in theory. The family is the model of the Empire of which the Emperor “son of heaven” as he is called, is the Father and has the oversight of the whole. He holds power of life & death over his subjects and can exalt or degrade whom he pleases. But he cannot use this power despotically because (as in the idea of a family every member is entitled to certain rights and considerations so every subject has his rights. This in theory, in practice, he seldom gets them. Not that the highest powers directly oppress the lower orders, but those next in authority.

The principle of government has been set forth by their philosopher Confucius, of whom we shall speak presently in the following words: “The ancient princes who desired to develop and clearly to set forth in their States the luminous principle of reason, which we receive from Heaven devote themselves before all things to the well-governing of the kingdoms, those who desire to govern their kingdoms will devote themselves beforehand to setting their families in good order; those who desire to set their families in good order, before that, correct themselves; those who desire to correct themselves first five to their souls the right direction; those who desire to give to their souls the right direction beforehand render their intentions pure & sincere; those who desire to render their intentions pure & sincere, before that apply themselves to the perfecting as far as possible their moral faculties. To perfect as far as possible their moral faculties they must penetrate and sound the principles of actions.

The officers of state, governors of provinces, magistrates & mayors are all chosen by competitive examination. As is the Empire, so is the province, on a smaller scale; the governor is the Father. The cities & villages are like smaller families. Every official is responsible to the one next in authority over him & each gets as much out of his sub-officer as possible, in tribute taxes & bribes. One instance will suffice to show in how much dread they live of their superiors. A merchant whom I knew to be very wealthy made but little show in his dress & in his retinue, in short his display was much below that which his position & wealth would have warranted. It was the more surprising as all Chinese have an inherent love of the gorgeous. So I asked another Chinaman to whom he was known why his friend went about in this style. “O, said he in the mutilated English which they speak, sposee he putter fine clothes that Saoutai come he house talkee he what for you no pay my more large money”. The Saoutai is the magistrate who has the power of levying a sort of income tax upon all in his jurisdiction. Their law-courts are but dens of depravity, auction rooms of justice, which is knocked down to the highest bidder. Thus the most beautiful theory of a government has become the most wretched and depraved in practice.

We come now to the character of the Chinese.

To all matters of religion, a Chinaman is indifferent, skeptical. His idea of a Supreme Being is embodied in the word Fung Shuy. The wind-water God who manifests himself to men by means of the elements indicated by the name. The esteem in which he (Fung Shuy) is held may be attributed to the fact that they are almost entirely dependent on wind and water as means of communication. Health and disease too they believe to be promoted by the direction in which the wind may blow, according as the Great Spirit is pleased or displeased with them. The ancient and in some parts the present religion of the Chinese is Buddhism (a form deduced from the Indian Brahminism).

The two great leaders of Chinese though, Kong-Fu-Tse or Confucius, as well call him, and Laoutse did not inculcate this form of religion, but framed moral laws to follow which they deemed sufficient. Hence the skepticism of the Chinese as to Buddhism.

Confucius was born 551 B.C. He began his career as a politician but the death of his mother forced him into a three year retirement and a resignation of his official post, as custom still adhered to on the death of either of the parents. Exception lately made in favour of Li-Hung –Chang the period of mourning reduced to 70 days not followed by deprivation of office. In this seclusion he devoted himself to philosophy.

It was at this time he wrote his famous maxims which are still taught in Chinese schools and which every lettered man has to learn by heart. Their aim is restricted to the political and social guidance of man without any relation whatever to his future state, not that he denied a future existence, but he made perfection in this life his great end. His own words will give you the best idea of his teaching. He says:

“It is first of all necessary to know the end to which man tends, or his definite destination and then to make a determination, the determination having been made, he may then have a calm and tranquil spirit, the spirit being calm & tranquil, he may then enjoy an unchangeable peace which nothing can break. Having attained this he may then meditate and form an opinion on the essence of things, having meditated and having formed an opinion on the essence of things, he may then attain to the state of perfection desired.

On being asked whether it was right to sacrifice to the spirits, he replied “Do it, it may do you some good that you not of.

Confucian Maxims from Dr Legge Confucian Analects

Have no friends not equal to yourself.

Learning without thought is labour lost.

Thought without learning is perilous.

Confucius said shall I teach you what knowledge is? When you know a thing to hold that you know it, & when you do not know a thing to allow that you do not know it, this is knowledge.

To see what is right & not to do it is want of courage.

He who offends against Heaven has no one to whom he can pray.

The faults of men are characteristic of the Class to which they belong. By observing a man’s faults, it may be known that he is virtuous. Comp. Goldsmith “And even his failings leant to virtue’s side”.

Ke Wan thought thrice and then acted. When the Master was informed of it he said “Twice may do”. Comp. Robt. Hale “In matters of conscience first thoughts are best.”

Said a disciple “Sir I should like to hear your wishes.” The Master said “They are in regard to the aged, to give them rest, in regard to friends, to show them sincerity, in regard to the young, to beat them tenderly.”

In addition to his maxims Confucius has also written a history of the time in which he lived and of that which immediately preceded him. He died at the age of 70, 479 B.C.

The other philosopher to whom I have alluded, Lao-Tse, was a contemporary of Confucius. He was the founder of Taowism, a creed which vaunts itself in the name of the “path of reason”. The philosophy of Lao-Tse is of much higher scope than that of Confucius, it aims at rendering men immortal by contemplation of the Ruling Spirit. What his idea of the “Ruling Spirit” was we get from his own words. “Before the chaos which preceded the birth of Heaven & Earth, a single being existed, infinite & silent, unchangeable & always acting”. This is the mother of the universe. I do not know her name but I shall designate her by the word “Reason”.

The day Confucius went to see this patriarch, for three days afterwards he did not speak a single word. One of his disciples asked him in wonder what was the cause of it; said his master “I have seen Laotze: he is like the dragon (the dragon is the symbol of power and is the sign of the imperial household). At his voice my mouth remained gaping, and I had no power to close it. My tongue hung out for very stupor and I had not the strength to draw it back. My soul has been plunged in trouble and it has not been able to regain its original calm.” Of course his language is metaphorical, were it not I should doubt the power of the profoundest philosopher to talk philosophy to such a hearer. The effect of the visit of the queen of Sheba to Solomon was “There was no more spirit in her”.

Very little is known of the life of this teacher. He died at the age of 119 in the year 523 B.C. He did not seek to spread his doctrine. His teaching has been much corrupted by the introduction of Buddhist ritual, alchemy & divination. These moralists are the greatest hindrances which a missionary meets with. If the beauties of the Gospel are pointer out to them they are sure to find something in Confucius which they think corresponds and answer “Yes that very good talkee. Kong Futse all same talkee.” Their cold morality is harder to fight against than the barbarism of the South Sea Islander to whom Christianity is a striking contrast. If they are spoken to ok a future life and of the necessity of preparing for it, they do not dispute the future life but reply that to live well in this life must absorb their energies.

Another great barrier to the reception of Christianity in China is the mode of life of the Europeans there. When the missionary insists upon this or that virtue & speaks of the merit of a Christian life they point to his countrymen and say “are these the traits?” So bad is the example of foreigners in the towns where they are to be found in greatest numbers the missionaries cannot set up any great missionary institutions but go away from the haunts of the merchant. To me this is more sad than the indifference of the Chinese, more blameable, more disgraceful.

The third great sect among the Chinese is that of Buddha. He is said to have been an incarnate deity who came to this Earth about 960 B.C. for the purpose of elevating & restoring to mankind his lost estate. To add to this curious analogy to our religion they have 10 commandments as follows:

1. Do not kill

2. Do not steal

3. Be chaste

4. Do not bear false witness

5. Do not lie

6. Do not swear

7. Avoid impure words

8. Be disinterested

9. Take no vengeance

10. Be not superstitious

In the year 50 A.D. this form received official recognition from the court at Peking and of course spread rapidly. Today every Chinaman is Confucian, Taowist and Buddhist at once or rather neither, all faith in religion is gone, the form of it is merely a matter of taste & fashion. Reverence for their gods they have none. A Chinaman had come to our house to sell some merchandise intending also to cheat if he could. To help him in his design he prostrated himself before a money idol. (such as here). Just before the conclusion of the transaction it was noticed that the bulk of the goods was not equal to the sample; a fair price was offered him and the whole of his goods detained, until he should be disposed to accept the offer. So enraged was he that he should have been detected in his fraud that he seized a bamboo and beat the joss into a thousand pieces for not having aided and abetted him in his design.

Another instance of this absence of reverence came before me at the Feast of Lanterns. I was present at a temple standing amongst the crowd during the offering of meats and clothing for the maintenance of the spirits of their ancestors. All the while that the priests were humming the prayers the crowd was loud in its merry-making and in playing with the children. The Chinaman standing near me had no light for his pipe to he walked up to the altar whereon the offerings were laid and lit his pipe from one of the candles. So far from arousing the indignation of the people they were highly amused at it. As for the priests they took no notice. What was it to them, the altars were well-stocked with food that would soon fill their larders &grace their own tables as soon as the service was over.

A word about these priests. They are taken from among the lowest of the people and live in the most abject poverty and misery. The prospect of such a meal as they were likely to get after the feast of Lanterns comes to them but once a year. Another feast of lesser magnitude comes at New Year. The remainder of their time they subsist of the alms of the few worshippers who repair to the temples. The temples themselves are falling into decay and where they are entirely in ruins they are replaced by no new building. I have dwelt at some length on the religion or rather irreligion of the Chinese at the risk perhaps of wearying you but because I deem it the keystone to the character. The second aspect in which we have attempted to view this great people. Apart from their religion, they are very cheerful, though usually they appear very stolid & calm. They cultivate this manner to look dignified, but when they think there is no need to keep up this appearance, they are full of fun.

They are very industrious & go through a great deal of hard work with a light heart.

We come to our third standpoint: the daily life. It is here we get the life-like portrait. The moralists, of whom we have spoken, have drawn their countrymen rather as they think they ought to be than as they are. It is like a painter taking a little child and portraying the man into which he should grow. Wait till the child has grown. Do you recognize him from it? The painter judged from those intelligent eyes that a lofty soul must here develop, that innocence grow into a virtuous man, that trusting mature should have made the man loving & to be loved. But look at his expression. You can see it is far otherwise and all that we can say is” an enemy hath done this.

Agriculture is the main occupation and in this they are unrivalled. In the district where I lived they got as many as three crops of the land in the year. In the spring a root crop, in the summer rice and in the late autumn cotton. The cheerfulness with which they will go through a painful duty is worth of imitation by those [who] think themselves more advanced. Next to agriculture the cultivation of tean and silk affords employment to thousands. The manner in which tea is grown had been so often written about that I need not speak of it here.

(This is a specimen of a common earthenware tea-pot not used in our fashion but merely to hold the hot water. The tea is made in each cup separately by pouring boiling water on the leaves, allowing it to stand covered for a few minutes and then drank without milk or sugar, much weaker than we take it.)

Of the production of silk perhaps less is known. The silkworms are not kept in the immense numbers by single individuals as is generally supposed but the poor cottages keeps enough to raise perhaps a pound weight up to 7 or 8 pounds. At the back of the house he will have a little orchard of mulberry trees to feed them with. These are cut low and trained somewhat in the same way we see fancy apple & pear trees trained so that the top most leaves may easily be gathered. The wife and children are very useful to the silk-grower in tending the worms, changing the leaves and keeping them clean. We have become familiar with the changes through which the worm passes, how it forms the cocoon, passes into the chrysalis state, thence into the moth, which lays its egges, then dies: from the fancy for keeping them so common amongst school boys. At the season, about the end of May, the great silk dealer of the village will go round to the cottages and buy up the bundles they have collected, valuing them according to the size of the thread and its freedom from fluff. From him the great country merchant collects the bundles and makes them into bales. The names of these large buyers are well-known to silk-merchants in London from the business card of the Chinaman recommending his goods inserted in every bale. This serves as a brand and guarantor of quality. From the country merchant it is sent down to the ports in boats to their nation brokers and from these men it passes into the hands of Europeans.

It is interesting to trace the history of the scarves (ribbons) which you are wearing from the thread of the cocoon to the time when it reached your necks and see the hundred branches of industries dependent upon the production of silk.

Besides these natural products, great enterprises engage the Chinese commercial world. They had an intricate banking scheme when Lombard Street was a wild overrun by hunters. Since they have become familiarized with our system of shipping and the superiority of our vessels they have formed steam navigation companies and chartered British vessels.

One of the most interesting branches of trade is the pawnbroker’s shop. Every Chinaman is a born merchant; he never loses a chance of saving or making a dollar, and the pawnshop helps him to this. Their dress is very valuable especially the winter clothing which is of costly furs & padded silk. £50 is no ordinary price for one of these long robes so lined with fur reaching from the neck to the heels. As they have no fires in their houses, except for cooking, they are obliged to put on much clothing so much that they can hardly walk about. On a cold day I have seen a man wear as many as 7 fur coats. This you will readily see makes a wardrobe very expensive for 8 months in the year, these are not wanted. In lying-by, they might easily spoil with moth; besides this it is like so much capital lying idle. So as soon as the winter is over these coats are put into pawn; the pawn-broker has to keep them in good order & free from moth, and their late wearer has the use of the money for trading purposes till he wants them again; this of course is the reason for redeeming a lighter suit. And so he goes on through all the changing seasons of the year. (This is quite a summer suit.) There is no occasion for a side door up an alley to a pawnshop in China for all make free use of them without fear of the stigma attached to such friendly transactions in England. In fact he would be deemed foolish who did not engage in them. Combined with thriftiness as it nearly always is, they are domesticated and sober. Exceedingly fond of children they seldom if ever have recourse to the baby towers except when driven to it by extreme poverty. One earlier accounts of China have formed the impressions, often quite wrong, which we get of this interesting people, and the tales of infanticide prove to have been much exaggerated as the swarms of children always to be seen playing in the streets would prove. Their home is in general very happy, even though there may be two wives in one house for bigamy is quite lawful.

Position awarded to women in China is very low. Confucius does not deign to mention them more than two or three times. He says they must not form an opinion, they must not think, they must not go out of the state, their duty is to prepare meat and drink. The one occupation that was left to thel has come to be esteemed unladylike so the result is they do nothing but a little embroidery such as is on this coat & these shoes, & learn music –the guitar. As to their going out of the state, they have difficulty enough to get out of doors in such shoes without being carried in sedan chairs. The custom of cramping the feet arose about 500 years ago, the same time that it became the fashion for men to wear the hair in a long plaited tail. A beautiful princess was renowned for the smallness of her foot, this made small shoes fashionable, and were soon adopted throughout the nation. Their social rank is denoted by the size of the foot. The coolie woman, the labourer’s wife who has to work for her living are exempt. The shopkeeper’s wife, the ladies-maid and those whose occupations are light cramp slightly while the lady who does nothing wears the smallest sort. (Photos)

Perhaps the greatest shock that can happen to the domestic happiness is given when the husband takes to opium smoking. Abstinent as a Chinaman is in respect of wine & spirits (they make both) this is a fashion & a habit few resist. This is the more curious as they see then end from the beginning in every opium shop and unlike the glitter that allures to gin, this is the dingiest dirtiest den in all the town. They are known from the outside by a placard bearing the motto “As You Like It” or a similar phrase. A paper screen just inside the door prevents the casual passer from peeping in. Inside on either side the room are narrow little wooden couches; on each reclines a smoker. Here you see them in various stages of stupor and prostration, those who are complete wrecks are hidden away in a dark room behind (exhibit pipe).

Although they are fond of children and exhibit much affection for one another there is a vein of hideous cruelty in their nature. It comes out very prominently in their punishment of criminals, & occasionally in their treatment of animals. I was walking through a densely populated part one evening when I was attracted by a large crowd. In the middle they had left a ring. Some boys had caught a mouse and threaded a piece of cotton through both its eyes and were dragging it backwards and forwards, enjoying the contortions of the poor thing as it leapt and writhed in agony. You can imagine my feeling of disgust but I dared not express it. Their appetite was whelted by this cruelty and if expostulated with they might have tried the effect of a similar experiment on myself. Do not mistake this for their usual treatment of animals they can be and often are as kind as it is possible to be towards them. I have known a Chinaman lie down in a stall beside a horse throw his arms round him and cry because the poor creature had hurt its leg.

Their amusements as a rule are harmless enough; they are fond of feats of strength, especially boxing & wrestling. The quieter disposed amuse themselves by training singing birds which they take out in the summer evenings at sunset to sing in the fields. Kite-flying, spinning tops, and sleight-of-hand are the diversions of old men. Gambling is unfortunately very prevalent amongst all, especially the southern. But time warns one that I must draw to a close though I might say much more about their courtesy, their affability, their ingenuity. I will only give you a specimen of their music. There is very little variety in it and is always accompanied by a clashing & clanging of cymbals. This is supposed to be sung by a beggar:

Fung Yang says one; Fung Yang cries another; Fung Yang always was a nice place.

Ever since the days of Emperor Chu; its fields have been waste 9 years out of 10.

For three years it pours; for three everything is dried up; and for the other three locusts bring distress.

Rich people sell their lands; poor people part with their little ones.

I alas have no little ones to sell; so I shoulder my tambourine and parade the streets.

To conclude, we have taken a glimpse of the Chinese as a nation and find them possessed of a sublime theory but villainous practice. We have tried to get at their character through their religion. Here we found they had a high moral basis which drifted them into skepticism as to the necessity of preparing for a future life sometimes even to the disbelief in another existence. We see them in their daily life shrewd, frugal, simple though sometimes cruel. With these same traits the nation has hung together for centuries & was comparatively civilised while as yet our ancestors were but cunning hunters. There must be something good at the bottom of a people who can last like this. It is I think their family life and the placing it before them as the ideal of all forms of government. What a mighty strength would reise from that vast nation if they could be learn of true God as the Father of His believing people.

It were well for us if we could realize the fact that we are all members of one family with one Father in heaven, and not upon that position, that relationship. It would prompt us to many an act of kindness and much consideration for others it would lighten their burdens and render us happier. If done from pure motive it would have its delicious fruit on this world and would not be unrewarded in the world to come.

P.S. added for the benefit of our audience of ladies:

A word about the unenviable position of Chinese women might not be unreasonable; what is the cause of it? In the first place it is because the men tell them they are useless and that they do not understand the affairs of men and the women are foolish enough to believe it. Custom and fashion have strengthened their belief. It they were to rise and show themselves useful, it would be of little avail for men to tell them that they were of no use, in fact men would begin to change their minds and learn to recognize in the other sex a power which when allied to their would be invincible. If they but once felt the force of sympathy it would become a necessity to them and women would hold their right place. What I mean by women showing themselves useful is not only that they could carry out their household duties, the preparation of meat & drink, what Confucius has assigned to them, but that they should familiarize themselves with the thoughts of men and take an intelligent interest in their occupation and when occasion calls for it act with their aid with their counsel or cheer with their sympathy. History gives some striking examples of this. When the Spartans were going out to war the mothers, sisters & wives accompanied them to the gate of the city and bade them farewell in these words: “Return as conquerors or return not all.” This may sound rough & harsh, but gentler stuff would not have suited these warriors. And as the army was lost to sight in the dust of the march and the parting words died on the breeze they lived in each man’s breast, they nerved his arm to strike, his body to endure and the clashing of sword and shield could not drown the words which meant “Conquer or Die”. To him they were an inspiration and made him twice a man. Take an example of another kind of usefulness. Columbus in his appeal for vessels to start on that daring adventure ever attempted would have had but little success with King Ferdinand of Spain if his Queen Isabella had not thrown in her persuasion and advice. Instances might be given of women, the presence of whose influence has checked the mutiny of a whole ship’s crew of noble women who have followed armies to tend the sick. Women of this stamp have gained the respect, the admiration they merited, more, they have cast it over their whole sex. A striking contrast this position of the Eastern & the Western woman. Yet there are not wanting in our land girls who are content to forfeit their western privileges for the Eastern imagined luxury of doing nothing leading aimless lives. Much is said about the “Higher education of women”. This will go far to dispel aimlessness because it will give an intelligent perception of the world and its people. I am glad that the word “higher” has been used to denote this, because it is but comparative, it is a middle stage which you reach by the aid of others. But she who would be useful needs more than the Higher education; she needs the Highest, the cultivation of the faculties. This is attained by making use of what is transmitted to you by others by watching for your opportunities of doing good. You feel it would be presumption to think you could ever come up to the instances I have given? You are not required to now. The time may come by & bye. The home-circle, your friends these are spheres which suffice for most wherein to labour and where you may escape dishonor and attain respect.

[Additional exhibits:]

This is a picture of a Chinese wedding. They are not married in church, but in the bridegroom’s house. The engagements are very long, as they usually betrothed when quite little children. During the engagement many absurd customs are carried out. The chief preliminaries to a wedding are:

1st The consent of the parents on both sides, consent of the young people about the marry is never thought of.

2nd The two families exchange cards bearing the family name; each card is stuck through with 2 needles threaded on one string.

3rd The exchange of presents between the 2 families. The bridegroom supplies the wedding outfit for his bride & the bride supplies the furniture of the house.

4th The procession of the bride from the old home to then new. In the procession all the presents & furniture are carried headed by a band. The ceremony is brought to a climax by both kneeling before the ancestral tablets & burning incense.

Marriageable: for a man, about 20; for a girl, anytime after 14 or 15.

Funeral procession

When a corpse is laid out, tapers are lighted to show the departing spirit the way; the body dressed in several suits. On the road to the grave, paper money is dropped to propitiate the evil spirits. Coffin is made air tight with cement. Thus able to keep their dead a long time without burial. Food is provided for the departed.