An Authentic Account of the Embassy of the Dutch East-India Company. 1
After the Emperor had drunk a cup of juice or milk expressed from a kind
of bean, a cup of the same beverage was brought us, poured out of his
Majesty’s own pot. All this was given us by the two principal Ministers,
and by other persons of high rank, into whose hands it was delivered by
In the last place the Monarch distributed keep-sakes to the Envoys and
other persons of distinction present, who scarcely amounted in all to
twenty individuals. These keep-sakes principally consisted of little
bags of tobacco, and little glass bottles to hold snuff.
My nephew and I received an equal portion. It consisted of four little
embroidered purses, a bottle of snuff, two boxes of Long-ching tea, two
bowls of blue porcelain, and little porcelain dish with fix China
oranges. We made the salute of honour sitting.
While all this was passing, the comedy was going on without
interruption, and some Chinese were also performing feats of activity
upon the theatre. Of one of these I cannot help speaking, on account of
the extraordinary strength he possessed in his feet; and because of all
the tumblers I saw in China, he was the only one deserving of mention.
Even in Europe this man would have attracted the attention of the
Lying down on his back, he held up his legs vertically in the air. Upon
the sole of his feet was next placed a ladder of fix long steps, with a
flat board at the bottom, A child of seven or eight years of age then
climbed up the steps, and fitting upon the upper one, played a number of
monkey-tricks, while the man kept turning the ladder first one way and
then another. The child afterwards descended and ascended, twitting his
body in such a way between the steps, that the different parts of it
were alternately on the two opposite sides of the ladder. This diversion
lasted at least a quarter of an hour.
When the exhibition of the ladder was over, two men brought an enormous
earthen vessel, which must certainly have weighed more than a hundred
and twenty-five pounds, and which they laid side-ways upon the feet of
the strong man, who turned it round and rounds and over and over with
astonishing rapidity. The child was then put into the vessel at the
moment the mouth of it was turned from the Emperor, towards whom it was
immediately brought round again by the man. The boy then made signs of
respect, and climbing over the edge, got upon the top of the vessel,
seated himself there, and assumed a variety of attitudes, letting
himself hang down over the edge, by which he held with his hands, and
enlivening the performance by a thousand playful tricks.
I do not know whether I have succeeded in giving the reader an idea of
the boldness of these two feats of activity. As to myself, I do not
remember ever to have seen any in Europe that astonished me so much.
After having been present at leak three quarters of an hour his Majesty
retired. We were desired to do the same, and re-conducted to the hotel,
where we learnt that the Emperor had sent us another present, consisting
of some pastry, and a piece of fresh pork.
This audience came upon us very unexpectedly, and appears to have been
of a very private nature, since it took place in the Emperor’s
apartments, and since so very small a number of persons was admitted.
The utmost order prevailed, because there were no domestics of the
inferior class; and it must be confessed that every thing that was
served up was cooked very well, and in a very cleanly manner.
I have great reason to be pleased with the circumstances of this event,
since it gave me an opportunity of feeing the internal parts of the
palace, which perhaps were never before exposed to the eyes of a
foreigner. This will be the motive of a little prolixity in the
description I am about to give of the place wherein we were received.
The place in which his Majesty was fitting is rather a hall or landing
place between two rooms than a room itself. The whole space is less than
ten feet square by eight feet high. There were larger rooms on each
side; and, in one of those to the right of the Emperor, I perceived
through several small windows a great number of ladies who were looking
at us with much curiosity; while an apartment to the left contained a
number of European bells, and several magnificent pieces of furniture.
The theatre is about fifteen feet square, and is so near the other room
that there is not five feet distance between it and the stair-case. The
intermediate space in which we were sitting was hardly sufficient to
contain us thirteen Envoys and our little tables. The great Mandarins
were on the same side, but close to the theatre, crowded one upon
another, and only coming forward when any thing was to be handed to the
guests. I had the distinguished honour of being waited upon by the Prime
Minister of the Chinese Empire, who is also not unfrequently called the
Behind us was another building open in the centre, with two apartments
on its sides, in which I perceived doors, leading no doubt to other
apartments and other edifices.
By these details, and by those I gave when speaking of the apartments of
the Prime Minister, it is easy to judge of the smallness of Chinese
rooms; for they never make use of large halls but on occasion of
festivals or public assemblies. It is generally the first story of great
edifices that contains a hall or two that might better be called
galleries. I am told that there are a hundred of these halls as well in
the Imperial palace, as at the Emperor’s country house at
Yuen-ming-yuen, intended for public entertainments.