CHAPTER III THE THREE MORAL OBLIGATIONS.
It must be borne in mind that the Viceroy is writing solely for his own countrymen and not for outsiders, and that his readers, whilst highly educated from a Chinese view-point, are densely ignorant of European manners and customs. It is a pitiable fact that the great majority of the Chinese regard us as brute beasts; and it is popularly understood that all countries outside the limits of China possess no laws regulating the marriage and other relations. This Chapter is a sincere attempt to enlighten the crass ignorance of the author’s countrymen on this point.
The subjects of the Flowery Kingdom do not call their country “China,” but Chung Kwoh, or “Middle Kingdom.” It is incorrect to say that this is because the people believe that China lies in the middle of the earth. Chang Chih-tung rightly says that the name is derived from “The Doctrine of the Middle,” which is an important section of their canonical “Four Books.” The principles of the Chinese do not go beyond, and do not fall short of, what is just and right. The “Middle Kingdom” is therefore so called because its organization was supposed to be perfect and complete. We Americans proudly imagine that our country is E pluribus UNUM. — Translator.
The Sovereign is the head of the Subject, the Father is the head of the Son, and the Husband is the head of the Wife. These tenets have been handed down from the sages, and as Heaven does not change, so they never change. They constitute the first of the Five Relations and the spring of every act. Coming down to us from hoary antiquity, the observance of them has ever marked the sage, and it is because of them that China is the “Middle Kingdom.” For these tenets neither fall short of, nor go beyond, what is right. Know then, that the obligation of subject to sovereign is incompatible with republicanism; that the duties a son owes to a father conflict with the talk about the father and son being amenable to the same punishment and the abolition of mourning for, and sacrificing to, one’s parents; and that the true relation which exists between man and wife is utterly at variance with the prattle about a man and woman having equal power.
Now, we have examined somewhat into the methods of Western Governments. They have their Lords and Commons, their Senates and Representatives, which hold their prerogatives in State matters. But we have noticed that the Sovereign, or the President, retains the power of dissolving these assemblies; and in case one assembly does not suit him he exercises this power, dismisses the obnoxious body and convenes another. A Constitutional Government with a Sovereign, and a Republic are about the same. In the West the intercourse of Sovereign, Ministers, and People is easy, the rules of deportment meagre, and the needs of the people are communicated to the sovereign with rapid facility; but the bearing or dignity of the Western Prince is not to be compared with that of the Chinese Emperor. Western people, however, love their sovereigns more than the Chinese do theirs, and, although they may leave home and live abroad thousands of miles from their native land, they do not disobey their country’s laws, or defraud their rulers. Foreigners living in China take a personal interest in the affairs of their own nation. If their country meets with prosperity or adversity, success or failure, joy or sorrow, they are affected accordingly, just as though the event had happened to themselves. It is a mistake, then, to suppose that Western countries do not maintain the doctrine of the Relation of Subject to Sovereign.
Again, in the Mosaic Decalogue the duty of honoring one’s parents is placed next to that of worshipping Heaven, and foreigners also put on mourning for deceased parents and wear black bands as the badge. Although they have no such things as ancestral halls and tablets of deceased relatives, in lieu of these they place the photographs of their dead parents and brothers on the tables in their houses and make offerings to them. And while they make no sacrifices at the tombs of their ancestors, they repair their graves and plant flowers upon them as an act of worship. It will be seen, then, that Western people also hold, in common with us, the Relation of Father and Son.
” Thou shalt not commit adultery” is another of the Ten Commandments. Western society permits the platonic intermingling of the sexes. The restraints which are thrown around women may seem lax to a Chinese, but we must remember that a European sets a low price on a whoremonger, and there are rules of lawful matrimony in their countries. Consanguineous marriages are forbidden. The laws of kinship proscribe the intermarriage of the descendants of parents back seven generations.
Only the men dress in coarse cloth. The women wear embroidered silks, and can, with perfect propriety, act as hostesses at dinner-parties. This latter was done in China also during the Ts’i Dynasty. Women are allowed to choose their own husbands, but the parents must be consulted before making the engagement; this is always done before the marriage is consummated. A European cannot legally take a concubine. This is entirely different from Chinese custom.
So it is a false imputation to say that foreigners make no difference between men and women; they love and adore their wives too much, we should say; but they do not employ them in government or military affairs, Parliament, Congress, or in manufactories. We point out the fact, then, that Western countries possess the Relation of Husband and Wife.
The sage is the outcome of the perfect practice of the Five Relations; and it was our sages who established the rules of propriety based on the affections. Although these rules are “few and far between” in Western countries, still foreigners have not abolished altogether the idea of etiquette.
Sincerity is the norm of Heaven and the law of our nature. China and the West agree on this point, for without sincerity no human prince could ever found a state, and no earthly teacher could ever establish a religion. But there is a class of stupid and ignorant whippersnappers with a mere superficiality of wisdom who exalt the excellence of Western administration, schools, manners, and customs above those of China. These fellows seem desirous of abolishing altogether our religion and our administration, and substituting in their place the immature governments and brusque manners of the foreigners. In their food, drink, attire, amusements, and in the ordering of their women, they ape the Western man in every detail. And the Western man laughs!
But worst of all, when Chinese literati meet according to appointment they must adopt a time regulation called ” seven-day worship.” This “worship day” [Sunday] is called Sing Ch’i; the steam factories, etc., stop work at this time, and the workmen are compelled to rest. We have recently heard a rumor that in some of the foreign Treaty Ports a movement has been inaugurated to abrogate the Three Moral Obligations, the real intent and purpose of which is to give free rein and license to the evil passions of its promoters. Nothing could be worse than this, and the thought makes one tremble. China has never possessed a government founded on such outrageous principles. The West acknowledges no religion supported by such pernicious tenets. A hybrid scheme indeed! Our own opinion is that the countries of the world will combine to stop such an outrageous proceeding.