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There is a passage in one of the oldest Chinese Classics, the Book of Odes, which, in describing the palace of an ancient king, shows in a striking light the relative estimation at that remote time put upon boys and upon girls. After speaking of the dreams of the king, the poet adds a couple of stanzas, which, according to Dr. Legge’s translation, are as follows:

Sons shall be born to him; they will be put to sleep on couches;
They will be clothed in robes; they will have sceptres to play with;
Their cry will be loud.
They will be (hereafter) resplendent with red knee-covers,
The (future) king, the princes of the land.
Daughters will be born to him. They will be put to sleep on the ground;
They will be clothed with wrappers; they will have tiles to play with.
It will be theirs neither to do wrong nor to do good.
Only about the spirits and the food will they have to think,
And to cause no sorrow to their parents.

From the sentiment of this poem alone it would be easy to determine the Chinese of to-day to be lineal descendants of their ancient ancestors.

The early years of a Chinese boy are spent in what, viewed from the experience of a decade later, must appear to him a condition of supreme happiness. He is welcomed to the household with a wild delight, to which it is wholly impossible for an Occidental to do any justice. He begins life on the theory that whatever he wants, that he must have; this theory is also the one acted upon by those who have him in charge, to an extent which seems to us, who occupy the position of impartial critics, truly amazing. A Chinese mother is the literal slave of her children. If they cry, they must be coddled, most probably carried about, and at whatever expense, if it is possible to prevent such a terrible state of things. They must not be allowed to cry continuously. In this respect, at least, it does not appear that there is much distinction between the treatment of boys and girls.

The names given to Chinese children, like those of the babies of North American Indians, are frequently suggested by whatever happens first to attract the father’s attention, such as Basket, Cart, etc. Each year of the cycle of twelve has an animal which “belongs to” it, as Dog, Cat, Chicken, Tiger, Horse or Monkey, and all these names are constantly employed. If when the child is born an old grandmother happens to be three score and ten, he is not improbably dubbed “Seventy.” Many have no other appellation than a numerical one such as Three, Five, or Six, to the hopeless confusion of an inquirer. If the child seems to be of a good constitution he may receive the title of Stone, or Solid. Should he be plump, he is likely to be styled Little Fat One; if dark coloured, Little Black One. Bad Temper, and Little Idiot are common, and if all the previous children have died, the last one may go by the name of Great Repairs.

When the parents are peculiarly fearful lest an only boy should be made away with by malicious spirits, they often call him by a girl’s name in order to deceive the powers of evil, and thus beat them at their own game. Another plan with the same end in view is a nominal adoption into another family, where the children spend at least a portion of their time, the spirits being thus hopelessly perplexed as to which family really owns the child! Slave Girl, and Old Woman are names sometimes given to boys under these conditions. A man who had more girls than he desired, called one of them Enough Hawks (Kou Ying), while another little maid was outfitted with the happy title “Ought-to-have-been-a-Boy” (Kai TzA-). Girls are frequently named for birds, fruits, and flowers.

All the preceding are “milk-names,” or “small names,” which strangers must be careful even should they know them, never to employ. No greater insult can be put upon an adult Chinese than to revile him in public by his “small name” a by no means infrequent occurrence which seems to convey the implication that the reviler knows all about his antecedents and holds them in supreme contempt.

It is a highly convenient arrangement of Chinese family nomenclature, that the names of each member of the same generation (within certain defined degrees of cousinship) furnish a clue to his relationship to the rest. Thus, if a man’s surname is Wang, his family name (which can be either two characters or one) may be compounded with the character denoting Spring, in which case one brother might be called Wang Spring-Flowers, the next Wang Spring-Fragrance, a third Wang Spring-Fields, and so universally for that generation as far away among the cousins as the Spring influence penetrates. These family names are theoretically recorded in carefully kept registers, and must not be repeated in later generations, or only after the lapse of a due number of generations. Memorials sometimes appear in the Peking Gazette from high officials asking permission to have a family name altered, since a repeated title has inadvertently been taken.

This use of the same characters in Chinese family names has often been compared to the Anglo-Saxon habit of bestowing upon brothers names of which one syllable is constant, as Edward, Edwin, Edmund, Edgar, etc.

Besides the name, there is the “style,” often much more in use than any other designation, which may be bestowed upon the owner by a friend. It is common by a respectful familiarity to prefix to the first character of the style, the honourific “Old,” (Lao) making still another title. Thus supposing Mr. Wang Spring-Fragrance has the style of Illustrious Virtue, his common appellation may be Wang Old Illustrious, his other names being used as alternatives. The result of all this is that a single Chinese not infrequently appears to be three and sometimes four, since students have also their examination names, differing, strange to say, from any which they have hitherto borne. The confusion attending the addressing of Chinese letters in correspondence would be intolerable to an Occidental.

Aside from the ambiguities already mentioned, it sometimes appears to the writer of a letter a happy expedient to employ a title on the back of his epistle, known only to himself and to the recipient, to the great bewilderment of the persons through whose hands the missive may pass. We have seen a Chinese teacher invited to inspect the address of a letter of this sort, the destination of which neither he nor any one else could decide. Yet it subsequently turned out that the epistle was meant for his own son! With all this labyrinth of future complexity the village boy is very little concerned, often passing through life without any name at all to speak of.

In this connection it is worth noting that the foreigner in China suffers from a chronic embarrassment as to how to address a Chinese. There is in the language no term answering to our Mister or Master, the nearest equivalent being the words Elder-born or Seignor (Hsien-sheng). The expression properly connotes a Teacher in reality or by courtesy, and although applied indiscriminately to blind men (even if they should be beggars) will not serve for general use. Honourific terms abound, but in the rural regions these are not in use, and are but dimly comprehensible. On the principle that “Within the four seas all are brethren,” it is the Chinese habit to assume the existence of a relationship, so that the passing stranger may appropriately call out to one whom he has never seen before: “Great elder-brother may I borrow your light and inquire whether this is the right road to Peking?” Should the person addressed be an old man, the title would be changed to Uncle or Grandfather. The fact that the term for an older uncle differs from that for a younger one, embarrasses the foreigner by forcing upon him a decision of the difficult question which one to use, for deciding which point he often has absolutely no data.

A Chinese married woman has literally no name at all, but only two surnames, her husband’s and her father’s, so that when these chance to be common ones, it is impossible by this means to discriminate one woman from another. If Chinese women are to be addressed by strangers at all, there is even more embarrassment than in the case of men. In some regions the term Elder-sister-in-law (sao-tzA-) serves indiscriminately for any woman, but in others Aunt (la-niang) must be used, while in yet others nothing is appropriate but Grandmother (nai-nai) which elsewhere would be equivalent to Old Granny. When there happen to be three generations of women in the same family to dub them all “Grandmother” (especially if one of them is a girl in her teens just married) is flagrantly absurd. Beggars at the other gates clamour to have their “Aunts” bestow a little food, and the phrase Old Lady (lao T’ai-t’ai) is in constant use for any woman past middle life.

The age at which a boy is too large to be carried is a very indefinite one, and it is common to see distracted mothers staggering with their little goat-feet under the weight of children half their own size, lugging their offspring about for the reason that “they would not stand it” to be put down. A preparatory discipline of this nature is not adapted to teach children independence, self-control, or any useful lessons, and the result is such as might have been expected. But the Chinese child is an eminently practical being, and he finds by experience that, when there are half a dozen children smaller than himself, the period of his own supreme rule has passed away, and has passed away never to return. To this altered condition he soon learns to adapt himself.

Of that sympathy for childhood as such, which is so distinguishing a part of our modern civilization, an average Chinese father has no conception whatever. By this is not meant that he is not fond of his children, for the reverse is most palpably true. But he has no capacity for entering into the life of a child, and comprehending it. His fondness for his children is the result of the paternal instinct, and is not an intelligent and sympathetic appreciation of the mind of a child. He not only has no conception of such a thing, but he would not be able to understand what is meant by it, if the possibility of such sympathy were pointed out. The invariable reply to all suggestions, looking toward such sympathy coming from a foreigner, seems to be, “Why, he is only a mere child!” It is by the slow moulding forces of maturing life alone that the boy is expected to learn the lessons of life, and these lessons he must learn largely though not altogether by himself.

To most Chinese children, there is very little that is attractive in their own homes. The instinct of self-preservation does of course lead them to fly thither, as soon as they meet with any repulse from without, but this instinct they share with animals.

Chinese courtyards are almost invariably very contracted, and allow little scope for enterprising youth to indulge in any but the most crude and simple forms of amusement. The Chinese lad generally has but few toys, and those of the simplest and most clumsy description. At certain festivals, especially in the cities, one sees the children loaded down with all varieties of playthings often of a flimsy and highly inexpensive character. In the country the same phenomenon is observed wherever there has been a large fair, at which the provision for the children is always on a scale commensurate with their known wants. But of these articles made of earth, paper, bits of cloth, clay, reeds, sugar, and other perishable substances, nothing will be left when the next moon shall have completed its orbit. In regions where bamboo is to be had, there are a few more serviceable and less fragile articles constructed expressly for the children, and such articles doubtless have a longer lease of life.

That Chinese parents should take occasion to have a romp with their children, or even to engage with them in any game whatever, is, so far as we have observed, a thing wholly outside of the range of their wildest imagination. Children have very few games which can be played in the house, and the time which is to our little ones the cream of the whole day, that namely in which they can gather “around the evening lamp,” is to the Chinese a period of dismal obscurity. By the dim light of a small and ill-trimmed wick, dipped into a few spoonfuls of crude vegetable oil, the evening’s occupations are carried on as best they may be; but to a foreigner a Chinese home is at such times most ideally comfortless, especially if the season be winter. No wonder that those members of the family who can do so, are glad to crawl upon the more or less perfectly warmed k’ang, and wrap themselves in their wadded bedclothes. During the portion of his existence in which the father and the mother of the Chinese child most gladly forsake him, kind Morpheus takes him up, and claims him for his own.

The outdoor games of Chinese children are mostly of a tame and uninteresting type. Tossing bits of earth at a mark, playing shuttlecock with his toes and heels, striking a small stick sharpened at the ends so as to make it jump into a “city,” a species of “fox and geese,” a kind of “cat’s-cradle,” a variety of “jack-stones,” these are among the most popular juvenile amusements in the rural regions with which we happen to be acquainted. Chinese cities have allurements of their own, some of which do not differ essentially from those found in other parts of the world than China. But even in the country, where restrictions are at a minimum, Chinese lads do not appear to take kindly to anything which involves much exercise. One does not ordinarily see them running races, as foreign boys of the same age cannot fail to do, and their jumping and climbing are of the most elementary sort. We have never heard of a crow which was so injudicious as to build its nest in a spot where it would be visible to the eye of an Anglo-Saxon boy, unless the owner of the eye had previously made a long journey with it to a distance from all human habitations. But Chinese crows build their huge nests in all sorts of trees, in and about every Chinese village. It is not uncommon to see an old poplar with ten or twelve of these huge nests of sticks, which are undisturbed from year to year and from generation to generation.

The writer once counted twenty-four such nests in a single moderate sized elm, and this in the suburbs of a Chinese city. Buddhist teachings in regard to the sacredness of animal life do not suffice to account for the singular inviolability which crows’ nests enjoy in China. In the spring they are sometimes defended with the query; “How would you like to have your house pulled down?” But in a region where every stick of fuel is precious, what sacredness can attach to a bushel or two of large twigs, when the crows have visibly done using them? Neither does superstition in regard to ill-luck arising from demolition of the nests of crows explain their security, although at first sight this may seem to be the case. Extensive inquiries have satisfied us that the true explanation is simply the natural one, that the Chinese boy is afraid to climb so high as a crow’s-nest. “What if he should fall?” says every one when applied to for information on the point, and it is this unanswered and unanswerable question which seems to protect young Chinese crows from age to age.

The Chinese boy can seldom get access to running water; that is to say, the proportion of Chinese who can do so is infinitesimal. Most of them have no lakes, rivers, or ponds in which they can plunge and learn to swim, or in which they can fish. The village mud-hole is the nearest approach to the joys of a “watering-place” to which Chinese children can ordinarily aspire. These excavations are the hole whence the material for the village houses was originally dug. During the summer time these pits, many of them as large as a dry-dock, are filled to the brim with dirty water, and at such times they are sure to be surrounded by groups of children clad in the costume of the garden of Eden, enjoying one of the few luxuries of their mundane existence. When the boys are too large to indulge in this amusement, there is much reason to fear that most of them have taken their last bath, no matter to what age their lives may be prolonged!

If he cannot fish, neither can the Chinese boy go a-hunting, for in the most populous parts of the plains, of which so large a portion of the empire is composed, there is nothing to hunt. A few small birds, and the common hare, seem to constitute the objects most frequently shot, but except in the case of the limited number of those who make a business of securing such game to sell as a means of support, there are very few persons who devote their energies to any form of hunting. Indeed, the instinct which is said to lead the average Englishman to remark “It is a fine day, let us go and kill something,” is totally lacking in the Chinese.

In those relatively limited parts of the empire where ice forms to a sufficient thickness to bear the weight of human beings, one does see considerable frolicking upon frozen rivers and ponds. But the propulsion of the ice-sleds with passengers is a matter of business with those boatmen who during the season of navigation have no other means of earning a living. Chinese children do not take to them as our boys do to sleds, and even if they wish to do so, their parents would never dream of furnishing the children with such an ice-sled simply for amusement. To earn one, as a boy at home earns a sled or a pair of skates, by doing extra work, by picking up old iron, and other similar expedients, would be for a Chinese lad an impossibility.

If the amusements of the Chinese lad are relatively scanty and uninteresting, there is one feature of his life which is a fixed fact, and upon which nothing is allowed to intrude. This is his work. The number of Chinese children within any given area is literally incalculable, but it may be safely laid down as a general truth, that by far the larger part of these children are for the greater part of their time made to do some useful work. There is scarcely any handicraft in which even the very smallest children cannot be utilized, and it is for this reason in part that hereditary occupations are so commonly the rule. The child bred up to one mode of physical activity is fitted for that, if he is fitted for nothing else. If he is the son of a farmer, there is a very small portion of the year during which there is not some definite work for him to do, by way of assisting in the cultivation of the land. This is no doubt true of farming everywhere, but the unfailing industry of the Chinese and the heavy pressure of the common poverty give to this fact an emphasis not so strongly felt in other lands.

But even if the work on the land were all done, which is never the case until the winter has actually set in, there are two occupations at which the children may be set at any time, and at which more myriads of young persons are probably employed, than in any other portion of the planet. These two employments are gathering fuel and collecting manure. In a land where the expense of transportation forbids the use of coal in places distant even a few miles from the mouth of the pit, it is necessary to depend upon what comes from the soil in any particular place, for fuel to cook the food and furnish such warmth as can be got. Not a stalk, not a twig, not a leaf is wasted. Even at the best, the products of a field ill suffice in the item of fuel for the wants of those who own it. The Chinese habit of constantly drinking hot water, which must be furnished afresh as often as it cools and for each chance comer, consumes a vast amount of fuel over and above what would be strictly required for the preparation of food. The collection and storage of the fuel supply is an affair second in importance only to the gathering of the crops. But in every village, a considerable although varying proportion of the population is to be found who own no land. These people pick up a precarious living as they can, by working for others who have land, but their remuneration is slight, and often wholly insufficient for the food supply of the many mouths clamouring to be filled.

Farm labourers can be hired by the year in Shan-tung, for a sum equal to not more than five dollars in gold, with food but no perquisites. If the year has an intercalary month the labourer sometimes gets less than two cents a day. When refugees from regions flooded by the Yellow River abound, workmen can be obtained at merely nominal wages.

The writer has known an able-bodied boy engaged for a year for a sum equal to about a dollar and a half (gold). In another case a lad was offered about a dollar for a year’s toil, and was required to find some one as security that he would not abscond!

For the fuel wherewith to cook the exiguous supplies of this uncertain food, the family is wholly dependent upon what the children can scratch together. Any intermission of this labour is scarcely less a check upon the means of existence, than the interruption of the work of the bread-winner himself. In this dismal struggle for a basket full of leaves and weeds, the children of China expend annually incomputable millenniums of work.

In the midst of such a barren wilderness as constitutes the life of most Chinese children, anything which breaks the dull monotony is welcomed with keen joy. The feast-days, the annual or semiannual fairs held at some neighbouring town, an occasional theatrical exhibition, the humbler Punch and Judy performance, the peripatetic story-teller, the unfailing succession of weddings and funerals, and most of all the half-month holiday at New Year all serve as happy reliefs to the unceasing grind of daily toil.

There is one incident in the life of the Chinese lad, which assumes in his eyes some degree of importance, to which most Occidental boys are strangers. This is the ceremony of donning the cap, in other words of becoming a man and his marriage. The age at which this takes place is far from being a fixed one, but is often in the vicinity of sixteen. The customs observed vary widely, in some rural districts they frequently consist in nothing more exciting than the playing by a band of music in the evening before his marriage, and a visit on the part of the young man to each house in the village where he makes his prostration, much as at New Year, and is henceforth to be considered a full-grown man, and is protected to some extent from snubs because he is “only a child.”

The more conspicuous part of the affair, however, is the wedding. This proceeding is based upon principles so radically different from those to which we are accustomed, that it is generally hard for a Westerner to become reconciled either to the Chinese theory or to the practice. To us, marriage seems suitable for persons who have attained, not merely years of puberty, but a certain maturity of development compatible with the new relations which they now assume. We regard the man and wife as the basis and centre of a new family, and there is ancient and adequate authority for the doctrine that they should leave father and mother. In China it is altogether otherwise. The boy and girl who are married are not a new family, but the latest branch in a tall family tree, independent of which they have no corporate existence.

It is by no means uncommon for boys to be married at the age of ten, although this is regarded as a trifle premature. The physical, intellectual, or moral development of the parties concerned has nothing whatever to do with the matter of their marriage, which is an affair controlled by wholly different considerations. Sometimes it is hastened because an old grandmother is in feeble health and insists upon seeing the main business of life done up before she is called away. Sometimes the motive is to settle the division of a piece of property so that it shall be impossible for the elder heirs to retreat from the settlement. Quite as often the real motive for hastening the wedding is the felt need in the boy’s family of an additional servant, which need will be supplied by the introduction of a new bride. It is for this reason that so many Chinese women are older than their husbands. When they are betrothed, the bigger they are the better, because they can do all the more work.

To a Chinese, there is no more sense of incongruity in marrying a little slip of a boy, simply because he is young, and perhaps not more than half the size of his bride, than there would be in playing checkers with buttons, and then crowning the first button that happened to get to the king-row. What signified whether the button is a small one or a large one, since it has reached the last row, and has now a set of moves of its own, a fact which must be recognized by doubling itself. It is not otherwise with the Chinese boy. He is a double button, it is true, but he is nothing but a button still, and a small one, and is only an insignificant part of a wide and complicated game.

During the celebration of a Chinese wedding it does not strike the spectator that the bridegroom is the centre of interest, and the bride is so only for the time being, and in consequence of the curiosity which is felt to see what sort of a bargain the family has made in getting her. The young man is ordered out of the apartment where he has been kept in ambush according to the custom in some regions like an ox for the sacrifice. He is to fall upon his knees at a word of command, and kotow with intermittent sequence to a great variety of persons, until his knees are stiff and his legs lame. His eyes are fixed upon the ground, as if in deepest humility, and the most awkward Chinese youth will perform the details of this trying ordeal with a natural grace, with which the most well-bred Occidental youth could scarcely hope to vie, and which he assuredly could not hope to surpass.

When the complicated protracted ceremonies are all over, our young lad is, it is true, a married man, but he is not the “head” of any family, not even of his own. He is still under the same control of his father as before, his bride is under the control of the mother-in-law, to a degree which it is difficult for us to comprehend. If the youthful husband is trying to learn to compose essays, his marriage does not at all interrupt his educational enterprise and as soon as the ceremonies are over he goes on just as before. If he is dull, and cannot make the “seven empty particles” the terror of the inexpert Chinese essayist fit into his laborious sentences to the satisfaction of his teacher, he is not unlikely to be beaten over the head for his lack of critical acumen, and can then go weeping home to have his wife stick a black gummy plaster over the area of his chastisement. We have known a Chinese boy who had the dropsy in an aggravated form but who could not be persuaded to take a single dose of medicine that was at all bitter. If he was pressed to do so by his fond mother, he either fell into a passion, or cried. If he was not allowed to eat two whole watermelons at a time his tactics were the same, a domestic scene either of violent temper, or of dismal howling grief. He was merely prolonging into youth the plan universally adopted in the childhood of Chinese children. Yet this sensitive infant of seventeen had been married for several years, and leaves a widow to mourn the circumstance that drugs, dropsy, and watermelons, have blighted her existence.

It is far from being an infrequent circumstance for boys who have been married early, on occasion of some grievance, to run crying to their mothers for comfort as they have been in the habit of doing, and to be met with the chilling inquiry: “Why do you come to me? If you want anything, go to Her!”

By a strange exception to the otherwise almost uniform prudishness of Chinese practice, on the occasion of a wedding it is common although by no means universal for guests to take the liberty of going into the apartment set apart for the married pair, inspecting the bride as if she were an animal just purchased at a market, openly expressing whatever criticisms may occur. In this as in everything else customs differ greatly, but the phrase “playing pranks in the bridal room” (nao tung-fang) testifies to the frequency of the occurrence. In the year 1893, a native newspaper of Canton reported a case in which the bride was actually killed in this way, by having cold water poured on her, the perpetrators being fined $200 for “consolation money,” and all the costs of remarrying.

It is a postulate of Chinese ethics that no branch of any family should be allowed to be without its living representative, in order that the ancestral rites may be duly performed. As it constantly happens that there are no sons, it becomes necessary to adopt those of other brothers, or failing these the grandson of an uncle, or the great-grandson of a granduncle. Sons thus adopted are on the same footing as if they were own children, and cannot be displaced by such sons born later. The universality of these adoptions often makes it difficult to ascertain with precision the real relationship of a man to others of his family. Sometimes he continues to call his real father by that title, and sometimes he terms the uncle who has adopted him his “father” and his own father “uncle.” Again, he may be nominally adopted by an uncle, but continue to live with his own parents as before. The adoption of relatives is expressed by the general term “crossing over,” (kuo) and it is a sufficiently important feature of Chinese life to serve as the subject for a treatise rather than for a paragraph. It enters into the warp and woof of all Chinese family life, which cannot be comprehended without taking into account the substratum upon which the universal practice rests. While it is rooted in ancestral worship it is kept alive among even the poorest classes in the social scale by their very poverty. If a man has no heir he can be compelled to adopt some one of the numerous candidates who are thirsting to enter into prospective possession of even a small holding. But whoever is thus adopted becomes responsible for the funeral expenses of the one who adopts him. Innumerable lawsuits arise out of these complex conditions.

If there are no suitable persons for adoption among the family or clan of the adopter, he is often obliged to content himself with the son of his sisters, or even the grandchildren of his aunts. To our thought one “nephew” is as good as another, but it is otherwise with a Chinese, to whom the children of his sister (being of a different surname) are much farther off than those of his brothers. Besides this, on occasion of the death of the adopter, the position of a sister’s son is liable to be very insecure. Rather than take such an heir many Chinese will pick up a mere stranger, but in this case he can be easily got rid of should he turn out unsatisfactory. Outsiders thus adopted although they may be as filial and in every way as satisfactory as an own son, never escape the stigma of being only “picked up,” and this taint lasts to distant generations. A man told the writer that he was wholly without influence in the village where he was born, since his grandfather had been adopted as a stranger.

There is still another method of securing a son which is far less common than we should expect it to be. This is that of finding a suitable husband for a daughter, and then adopting him as a son. By this means the parents are enabled to have the services of an own daughter all their lives a rare privilege in China, and an adopted heir of this kind is certainly much more closely bound to the family than any other of a different family would be likely to be. But there are not many clans which do not have a number of candidates available for an adoptive vacancy. It would be necessary to conciliate whoever was entitled to adoption by dividing the property with him, which, in the case of those with but small resources, would be tantamount to perpetual pauperism. For this reason most cases of “calling a son-in-law” occur in families where there are no sons of brothers or cousins available.

As a rule every Chinese is as wide awake to opportunities for laying claim to the property of some one else, as a cat apparently asleep is to seize an injudiciously venturesome bird. The writer is acquainted with a man who had adopted a son-in-law in legal form, but who at the funeral of his own father was surprised to see a large band of strangers enter his courtyard clad in mourning, and set up a simultaneous wail for their “Uncle,” “Grandfather,” etc., according to the alleged relationship. Upon inquiry he learned that they came from a village at some distance, and bearing the same surname as the deceased had determined to claim kinship with him in order to fall heirs to the property which consisted of but little more than enough to support a moderate sized family. The result was a lawsuit in which the pretenders being unable to produce any family register to the purpose, were severely beaten by the District Magistrate as a penalty for their presumption.

One is constantly surprised in China to hear that a Chinese whose name he knows perfectly well, has taken an entirely different surname, so that Mr. Wang Spring-Flowers suddenly appears as Mr. Ma Illustrious-Virtue. This is called “reverting to the original name,” and may be due to any one of a great variety of causes. Even while these lines are being committed to paper, a friend of the writer has called to mention the experiences through which he has recently passed, a rA(C)sumA(C) of which may throw a little light on the Chinese theory and practice of adoption. This man is the second of four brothers, the eldest of whom was adopted into a somewhat distant branch of the family, and has three sons. Number two has two sons, the youngest of whom is adopted by number three, who has none of his own. Number four died some time ago without a son. The funeral has never been held, and the body has been encoffined awaiting a favourable time, that is to say, a period of financial prosperity. Number four owed to a grain-shop in which numbers two and three are interested, several hundred strings of cash. To pay up this debt and to have a proper funeral, would require the sale of all the forty acres of land, so that the right of adoption has not seemed worth contesting. But of late a son of number one has set up a claim to this inheritance, and it is this which has been in active dispute for a period of twelve days. To adjust the matter, “peace-talkers” have been summoned to the number of thirty-eight, many of them literary graduates. There have been angry disputes between them and some of the members of the family, and an actual fight. The “peace-talkers” were reviled, and took revenge by beating the son of number one who was in fault. This involved fresh complications, which had just been settled by a final feast.

During the course of the intricate controversies the eight and thirty men had by no means omitted to eat and drink (one of the leading functions of “peace-talkers” and for the sake of which many quarrels are purposely stirred up, and many more kept unsettled for long periods). They consumed in all seventy catties of wine, and a hundred more of bread-cakes, and the total cost to number two is about two hundred and thirty strings of cash, one hundred of which are paid by number two to number one’s family as “consolation money.” Yet in this whole matter the financial interest of number two is absolutely nil!

Another of the many devices which the Chinese have chosen for perpetuating a branch of the family which might otherwise become extinct, is to have a single individual represent two branches. Thus suppose there are two brothers only one of whom has a son, he may be married to two wives, one for each branch. The establishment must be a double one, and he will probably be obliged to divide his time equally between his partners, even having to change all his clothing in going from one house to the other. It is needless to remark that the jealousies thus provoked are such as would destroy any home.

If there is very little sentiment connected with the introduction of a daughter-in-law into a family, on the part of the husband’s family at least, there is often not much more on the occasion of her death. But this is generally regretted, if for no other reason, on account of the trouble and expense involved. Perhaps there is no single particular in which the Orient and the Occident differ more widely than in the utter disregard of Orientals for what we understand by privacy and for quiet. The lack of the latter is indeed often vaguely felt, but as it is a blessing known only by the imaginative faculty and never from experience, its absence has none of the intolerable features which we should associate with it. The moment that any Chinese is ill, the first step is to send in every direction to notify all sorts and grades of relatives, many of whom will feel it their stern duty to drop whatever they are doing, no matter what its importance, to go, and “take a look.” This inspection not infrequently extends for days and sometimes for weeks, when the presence of the relative has not the smallest relation to the care of the sick person, except as a hinderance by adding to the throng that hover over the patient, each with his endless questions as to how he feels now, and each with fertile suggestions as to articles of food vying with one another in preposterousness. Few of us would not welcome death as a relief from the experiences incident to serious illness under Chinese conditions, but under these conditions all Chinese are born, live, and die.

If a sick person is considered to be beyond the possibility of recovery, the next step is to “put on the clothes,” that is, those in which he is to be buried, a process which involves pulling him about to an extent which it is distressing to contemplate. In the case of old men there are sometimes angry disputes about the property in the immediate presence of death, and in that of wives especially younger ones if there is any considerable property, it will not be strange if the house is visited by relays of go-betweens intent upon proposing an eligible successor to the one about to depart, so as to be certain to forestall other offers. These negotiations may take place in the immediate presence of the dying woman, perhaps two or more strangers striving at the same time to get a hearing with their rival proposals!

The writer is acquainted with a family in which this took place, and one of the offers was accepted, but the sick woman contrived not to die after all! The agreement, however, was valid, and the prospectively stricken husband thus found himself provided with two lawful wives, each of whom subsequently bore him sons. Strange to say the family life is in this instance a comparatively peaceful one. Should a wife die, it is often a short time before the marriage of the next one takes place, an interval regulated not by sentiment, but by the difficulty of raising funds. Soon after the wedding may come the funeral of the predecessor.

In theory a Chinese lad becomes of age at sixteen, but as a practical thing he is not his own master while any of the generation above him within the five degrees of relationship remain on the mundane stage. To what extent these relatives will carry their interference with his affairs, will depend to a large extent upon their disposition, and to some extent upon his own. In some households there is a great amount of freedom, while in others life is a weariness and an incessant vexation because Chinese social arrangements effectually thwart Nature’s design in giving each human being a separate personality, which in China is too often simply merged in the common stock, leaving a man a free agent only in name.

Taking it in an all around survey there is very little in the life of the village boy to excite one’s envy. As we have already seen, he generally learns well two valuable lessons, and the thoroughness with which they are mastered does much to atone for the great defects of his training in other regards. He learns obedience and respect for authority, and he learns to be industrious. In most cases, the latter quality is the condition of his continued existence and those who refuse to submit to the inexorable law, are disposed of by that law, to the great advantage of the survivors. But of intellectual independence, he has not the faintest conception or even a capacity of comprehension. He does as others do, and neither knows nor can imagine any other way. If he is educated, his mind is like a subsoil pipe, filled with all the drainage which has ever run through the ground. A part of this drainage originally came, it is true, from the skies, but it has been considerably altered in its constituents since that time; and a much larger part is a wholly human secretion, painfully lacking in chemical purity. In any case this is the content of his mind, and it is all of its content.

If, on the other hand, the Chinese youth is uneducated, his mind is like an open ditch, partly vacant, and partly full of whatever is flowing or blowing over the surface. He is not indeed destitute of humility; in fact he has a most depressing amount of it. He knows that he knows nothing, that he never did, never shall, never can know anything, and also that it makes very little difference what he knows. He has a blind respect for learning, but no idea of gathering any crumbs thereof for himself. The long, broad, black and hopeless shadow of practical Confucianism is over him. It means a high degree of intellectual cultivation for the few, who are necessarily narrow and often bigoted, and for the many it means a lifetime of intellectual stagnation.