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and customs, the frame-work and administration of their government, the idiosyncrasy of their education and educational institutions, and their modes and implements of agricultural and mechanical labour, all proclaim their originality beyond doubt or cavil. Whoever attentively examines the immense Collection of Chinese Curiosities, of which we have given but a comparatively meagre sketch, will need no further proof of the ingenuity of the Chinese in arts and manufactures. In several branches of labour, both agricultural and mechanical, which evidently originated with themselves, they have never been surpassed ; and in some, they are unequalled by any other people. Without any claims to be considered a scientific nation, the various contrivances by which they economize labour, and force nature to be
come their handmaid, are many of them equally simple, ingenious, and efficient.
The three inventions and discoveries which, in their
results, have contributed more powerfully than all other causes combined to give to modern society its peculiar form and fashioning, and which are destined, instrument
ally, to carry forward, to its utmost limit of perfection,
the civilization of the human race, first started into being in the Celestial Empire; and, whatever mortification the statement may inflict upon our vanity, there is much reason to suppose that those who, throughout Christen
dom, are generally considered as the inventors of the art
of printing, the composition of gunpowder, and the mag
netic needle and mariner’s compass, received their first
promptings, and had their genius quickened into activity,
by information flowing, through different channels, from
the springs of Eastern Asia.
XXXIV. Our Trade with China.
The ancients may be said to have had no knowledge of China; for, though a few scattered gleams appear to have reached them from that remote region, and one or two feeble efforts were made to obtain information concerning its inhabitants, they were not sufficient to produce any practical results. Yet, when Rome was still an infant,
and the Grecian philosophy among the things to be,
China had produced a sage, second only, in the long catalogue of heathen philosophers, to the illustrious and pure minded Socrates. Some Nestorians appear to have introduced Christianity into China, in the year 635, but the world is indebted to them for no account of the country, either in its physical or moral aspects. Two Arabians, in the ninth century, visited and described it with considerable fulness. Much contained in their itineraries is applicable to the Chinese of the present day. Commercial relations of some importance existed then, and subsequently, between China and Arabia. The Chinese appear to have sought, in those early ages, commercial liaisons with several of the neighbouring nations. Carpini, the first Catholic missionary to China, was sent thither in 1246. He was kindly received, and sent back with a friendly letter. Another missionary was sent in 1253, who met with a like reception. About the same time, the two Polos, Nicholas and Matthew, reached the court of the Mongol conqueror, Coblai Khan, by whom they were most graciously received, and, at their departure, invited to return. They accordingly, in 1274, went back, taking young Marco with them. This young man became a
great favourite with the Khan, and resided at his court
seventeen years. He was the first European who gave the world an account of China. His book was long considered little more than a pleasant romance, but has since been proven to be remarkably faithful and accurate. Its glowing pictures kindled the imagination of the young Columbus, and fed for years his soaring hopes. The pen of the noble Venetian did much to nurse that lofty enthusiasm and indomitable perseverance, which at length revealed to Europe, not indeed a new passage to the rich empire of Cathay, but a NEw world, the destined refuge of the oppressed of every clime, designed by Providence to become the theatre of new and sublime experiments in government, where human nature, relieved from the pressure imposed upon it by the abuses of ancient dynasties, might start afresh, with unimpeded and elastic step, on the race of improvement. May the same Almighty arm that shielded from a thousand dangers the leading actor in the opening scene of this great drama, continue, through coming ages, to spread the aegis of its protection over these broad domains, and thus cause the fulfilment of the prophecy of the rapt bard, who sang,
“Time's noblest empire is the last.”
The next Catholic missionary to China was Corvino. He went to Peking, was kindly received by the Emperor, built a church by imperial permission, and baptized several thousand converts. The missions continued to flourish, and the missionaries were unmolested in their labours, till they began to meddle with the government, and thus became politically obnoxious.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans who traded to China. They made their appearance there early in the sixteenth century. They were followed by the
Spaniards, Dutch, French, &c. The Russians have an
tively unimportant part of it. Opium is the chief import into China. Mr. Bridgman in his “Description of Canton,” estimates the whole number of vessels employed in the China trade, belong to all the different nations, at 140. “But the trade,” he adds, “has always been carried on under circumstances peculiar to itself. It is secured by no commercial treaties; it is regulated by no stipulated rules. Mandates and edicts not a few there are on record; but they all emanate from one party: still the trade lives, and, by that imperial favour which extends to the ‘four seas,’ flourishes and enjoys no small degree of protection.” The foreign commerce with China, the land trade carried on by the Russians alone excepted, is restricted to the port of Canton, and is conducted, so far as the Chinese themselves are concerned, by a body of licensed traders, called “Hong merchants.” This body is called the Co-hong, and its members pay roundly for the privilege of entering it. It is not a joint stock company; each Hong enjoys his individual gains, yet the whole Co-hong is made responsible for the debts of every member, so far as they consist of government dues and obligations to foreigners. These merchants generally amass large fortunes, and live like princes. Houqua, the present head of the Co-hong, is supposed to be the richest commoner in the world. The wealth of Girard was small in comparison with that which he possesses. His annual expenses exceed half a million of dollars. There are very few of the English nobility, rich as they are, who have a rent-roll equal to this. The factories, as the warehouses and residences of the foreign merchants are called, are built on a plot of ground, in part reclaimed from the river, having not more than