A Narrative of an Exploratory Visit

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A Narrative of an Exploratory Visit
A narrative of an exploratory visit to each of the consular cities of China, and to the islands of Hongkong and Chusan: in behalf of the Church Missionary Society, in the years 1844, 1845, 1846.
George Smith (1815-1871)
London: Seeley, Burnside, & Seeley
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Of the influence which religion exerts over the daily life and actions
of the community, it is less difficult, although not easy, to form an
estimate. The uneducated are manifestly idolaters; nor do the better
classes seem to rise much above the superstitions of the vulgar. In
fact, the Chinese have no acknowledged system of religious belief,
except a compound or farrago of all the strange vagaries which
falsehood, priestcraft, mysticism, and fear have combined in diffusing
alike among Budhists, Taouists, and Confucians. Their notions are wild,
vague, and confused; and they are ready to ingraft on the multiplied
absurdities of their belief any unmeaning practice which may seem likely
to procure a lucky omen, or the favour of chance. Of this character are
the numerous illuminations, theatricals, and offerings; which at this
season of the year abound in Canton. The destructive ravages of fire
among whole streets, rendered still more destructive by the light
combustible materials of which their houses are composed, have led to
the practice of propitiating the tutelary deities of the neighbourhood
by a yearly offering at the commencement of the winter season.
Subscriptions are collected to raise a fund for this purpose; and whole
streets may be seen in their turn; night after night, brilliantly
illuminated for a general holiday. Public companies are also formed for
supplying the usual lamps, festoons, musicians, images, and other
accessories, which grace the festive occasion. At the end of some of the
streets the effect to the eye is magnificently grand, where the
tradesmen have been unusually successful in business since the former
similar occasion, and, as an acknowledgment, subscribe their money for a
festival of more than ordinary grandeur. In walking through the streets,
the attention is suddenly arrested by ingeniously-contrived machinery,
performing, by means of images, many of the acts of ordinary life, to
the gratification of the crowd below. A little further on, a company of
living musicians, in a retired recess or gallery, accompanying the voice
of some artiste of song, rivet the attention of silent admirers.
Suddenly, in some wider part of the street, numerous drums, gongs, and
the shrill tones of the peculiar Chinese falsetto voice, indicate the
principal centre of attraction. On an elevated stage may be seen
mandarin processions; battles between the Celestials and Barbarians (in
which the former, of course, are always victorious); native heroes
slaying their thousands, and whirling round in the violence of martial
fury; and horsemen whipping their unruly steeds, as well as the whip and
the action can compensate for the absence of the imaginary animal. Soon,
again, imperial councils and the politic measures of sage rulers,
together with an occasional introduction to an interior view of Chinese
social life, may be seen acted in all the pompous majesty of actual
reality, amid the plaudits of the enthusiastic assemblage. On one
occasion, the mal-practices and ambitious career of Tsaou-Tsaou, a
wicked Mandarin in the Han Dynasty, the Napoleon of his age and country,
were the subject of representation.