Harper’s Weekly, March 29, 1879, pages 246-247(Article)
The Heathen Chinee! Why do we give him such a disparaging epithet?

"He’s too filthy, the moon-eyed leper. He lives in one room of a tenement shanty, with twenty others as nasty as himself. He has a bad, fishy smell. As to morality, he makes himself tipsy with opium, and—look at his joss-house."

The real offense of the Chinese is that he cheapens labor. The ostensible offense is that his paganism engenders vices which make him a demoralizing element of society. His weakness consists in this, that he has no vote.

But there is something more important than a vulgar outcry. Many highly respectable persons, who would not willfully do him any injury, are from usage unable to speak of him except in obnoxious terms. A very enlightened and liberal body, the Chamber of Commerce of New York, in its address to the President asking him to withhold his signature to the anti-Chinese Bill, speaks of China as the "heathen empire."

Then, as we all know very well, our popular poets have not spared him. In stanzas of no uncertain merit he figures under his accustomed name as a cheat at cards.

The Amaiman cuts off a cow’s tail, dries it, hangs it up on a peg, and then falls down and worships it as a goddess. That is heathenism, paganism. But that is not what a Chinaman would do.

Has this people contributed any thing to the advancement of civilization? Has it conferred any benefits on mankind? All nations without exception must submit to be tried by that test. In an answer to these questions, directed to the Chinese, we shall find a measure of our obligations to them—of the courteous treatment they are entitled to demand at our hands.

Through how many years of slowly advancing civilization must China have passed, how great must her social necessities have become, before she reached her invention of printing from wooden blocks, and its necessary requisites, the manufacture of paper and of suitable ink. Yet these she had accomplished a thousand years before our era! How much industry and ingenuity must she have expended before she had learned to make steel into thin strips, to temper and to impart the magnetic virtue to it by touching it in a certain way with a loadstone! What momentous consequences have happened to the world by her detection of polarity in a strip so touched! In the hands of Columbus it led to two great discoveries—that of the West India Islands and that of the line of no magnetic variation. Without the former there would not have been any United States, whose back-door is now slammed in the faces of those who helped to find the way to its front-door. As to the latter, did it not, in consequence of the bull of Pope Alexander VI. —one of the most important bulls ever issued—lead to the south route to India by way of the Cape of Good Hope? Did it not cause the great industrial revolution that changed the commercial front of Europe from the North Mediterranean to the Atlantic? Above all, when Magellan accomplished the circumnavigation of the earth, did it not settle forever the greatest geographical problems? Nobody after that denied that the earth is a globe. Does not her discovery of the temporary magnetism of soft iron rest at the basis of many of our most brilliant modern inventions? Without it where would be our dynamo-electric machines, our Gramms, our Ruhmkorf coils, our expectation of electric illumination? What was it that sustained Oersted in all the disappointments that for twenty years preceded his capital discovery of electro-magnetism, one of the glories of this century, but this, that the law of magnetic attractions and repulsions is the same as that for electricity? The one is due to the Chinese, the other to the French.
We must count among the most important of Chinese inventions that of gunpowder. They studied very thoroughly the chemical qualities of sulphur, charcoal, nitre, and this mixture of them. They did not care to apply it to warlike uses, but exhausted their skill in its pyrotechnic display. Their fire-works are the finest in the world. A good Jesuit tells us how he saw with astonishment a trellis of red grapes, green leaves, and the wood of the trellis represented in fire. We have no works of the kind which they do not surpass. Nor should their reluctance to apply this invention to warlike uses excite our surprise. They constitute an immense pacific population, which has lost the instinct of conquest. The young American should remember with gratitude how effectually they enable him to celebrate the birthday anniversary of his nation. They excel in the art of dyeing, the making of colors, the manufacture of splendid pigments from carthamus, indigo, the preparation of sugar. Their bells, such as the great bell of Pekin, are among the grandest triumphs of casting. In the working of metals they possess many secrets. Their magic mirrors, which show by reflection of sun rays from their polished front the images of things represented on their rough back, are at this moment objects of curiosity and disputation in London.
Let us not forget their porcelain. Can it ever be surpassed in purity, delicacy, beauty? Well might the Romans prize these murrhine cups at many times their weight of gold.

It would be in vain for me to attempt any adequate statement of their contributions to industrial art. Of all people they see quickest the practical side of a fact. We have no hydraulic constructions as imposing as the Chinese canal system; it rivals our railway system. We have no Artesian wells that exceed in depth some of theirs. We have no fortifications as extensive as the Chinese wall.

Well, but, says somebody, what about mechanical engineering? Where is their steam-engine, their locomotive?

China has been driven by the emergencies of her political condition to discourage labor-saving inventions. It was not for her to do any thing that might deprive her enormous population of work. Wherever force was required, she had plenty of hands; the genius of her people gave her plenty of patience. Her necessities of inter-communication were abundantly supplied by her magnificent canal system. She did not care about speed, nor does she care about it even now, when the railway is within her reach, though she could spend thousands of millions upon it. She doubts whether it is compatible with her social condition, her quiet habit of life. She believes that the life of man may be more happily, more nobly spent than in a disgraceful rush after money.

The offensive expression, "Heathen Chinee," is, however, not so much in allusion to her lack of scientific capacity as to her supposed religious condition. Let us look for a moment at that.

About five hundred years before our era China passed through an intellectual crisis. It was the epoch of Loa-tse and Confucius. These great, and I think I may add good men, looked with dismay on the religious condition of their countrymen. They saw how difference of opinion, and its consequence, divisions into sects, had arisen and were daily increasing. They saw in what a disastrous manner society was affected by those dissociations. The countless sects which were swarming into life stood in an isolated and in many instances an inimical relation to each other. It was a scene of rivalry and hatred, tempered by hypocrisy. Confucius in his youth had sought the friendship of Lao-tse, who was by fifty years his senior. Both had arrived at the conviction that men can never be made to think alike on religious subjects. Then is it not best to let such subjects alone in our intercourse with each other, and content ourselves with devising a social system which shall be a guide to courtesy in our relations with others, to contentment, and happiness to ourself? From a profound examination of the religious condition of China, Confucius had thus come to the conclusion that it is not given to man to attain to certainty or unity in theological matters, and therefore it is useless for him to concern himself with them. In the course of ages many forms of polytheism and monotheism had prevailed. Each had had its day. Confucius says to his countrymen: "I teach you nothing but what you can discover for yourselves. Look around and use your own reason. No superior power has sent me. I am nothing but a man like yourselves. Don’t make existence a wild fever of excitement; be virtuous, be patient. The sun shines on the dial of life but for a few hours; seize and enjoy the bright moment as you may. What is the use of running after the parting shadow of time? Let every man rule himself and his family in accordance with virtue. Let him obey the emperor, who is the representative of the law, as he desires his children to obey him. In the long ages that are passed our fathers were extracting wisdom from experience; let us never forget that we are what we are because of what they thought. Let us set firmly before our eyes the conclusions to which they came. Let us do homage to our dead. Let not the grave hide from us forever so much that is noble and beautiful and good."
Is not ancestral worship parted by many degrees from heathenism?

So arose this worship in China. Doubtless it has greatly conduced to political stability, though it has retarded progress. The Chinese has no desire to be more learned than his forefathers. His guide in life can scarcely be called a religion; he considers it as nothing more than a means of conducting himself honorably and prudently, of teaching him how to discharge his social and political duties, of cultivating industry, modesty, sobriety, gravity, decorum, thoughtfulness. He says to his friends, "Religions are many, reason is one; let us be brothers."

Lao-tse, the forerunner of Confucius, stands, as it were, on the boundary line of the physical aspirations of the old Chinese times and the indifferentism of the new. He recommends his countrymen not to give up the investigation of nature, and especially to direct their attention to the preparation of an elixir of life. That the vegetable world contains material admirably calculated for the benefit of man, both in a physical and moral sense, seemed to be proved by the discovery of tea, one of the most valuable gifts that Chinas has made to the human race. Intoxicating drinks were not forbidden, as was subsequently the case among the Mohammedans, nor their use forcibly restrained by law, as among us. They were simply displaced by what was acknowledged to be a better beverage. Not known to Europeans until the close of the sixteenth century, the infusion of the leaf of this plant has had among us the same beneficent effect that it has had among the Chinese, and that especially as regards our female population.
But perhaps the grandest example that China has offered to the human race is her attempt—far from being unsuccessful—at the organization of her national intellect. By a system of well-designed competitive examinations she singles out her ablest men; to these eventually she entrusts the management of state affairs. The basis from which she starts is universal education. People sometimes are astonished at the solidity and durability of her institutions, and wonder how she can control four hundred millions of subjects. The explanation is to be found in this, her policy. And now Christian nations, even our own, are attempting to follow her example, to lay their foundation on universal education, compulsory if need be, and then to sort out their ablest minds. The Chinese method, which takes literature as its standard, would be unsuitable among us, but the principle might be applied in other modes better suited to our case.
Surprise is often expressed that so many Chinese inventions and discoveries reached Europe between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries. An explanation has been sought in the commercial transactions of Venice and Genoa, but, singularly enough, the wars of Gengis-Khan seem to have been completely overlooked. The empire of this Tartar conqueror reached from China to Poland. A contemporary estimate of its intellectual importance is marked by the foundation of a professorship of the Tartar language in the University of Paris. A great service might be rendered to modern literature by one who would carefully study the political effect of these military movements, which occurred when Europe was at what might be called an epoch of her life. It was the boast of this great Mongol conqueror that any person might pass through his dominions from one end of Asia to the other without molestation or even question. There was no reason why Chinese discoveries should not come.
Now I have offered some reasons why we should cease to speak of the Chinese in terms of opprobrium, why we should look upon them with sincere respect. Heathen Chinee! Let us abstain from that insult. It may, however, perhaps be said that while all this applies to the educated and polite classes, it does not apply to the degraded specimens that are so obnoxious to the Californians. To this I answer that what concerns us is the present use of this people, and their prospective capabilities. At present they are here as laborers, and must be compared with the laboring emigrants of any other nation. So far as industry, frugality, sobriety are concerned, they do not appear to disadvantage in that comparison. But when the time comes that awakened justice or the rivalries of politicians shall give to them what seems to be in a republic necessary for self-protection—a vote—they will begin to settle here, and the career they will be capable of may be foretold by what in past ages they have done.

John W. Draper.

Harper’s Weekly, March 29, 1879, pages 246-247(Article)

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