An Historical, Geographical, and Philosophical View of the Chinese Empire. 1

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An Historical, Geographical, and Philosophical View of the Chinese Empire. 1
An historical, geographical, and philosophical view of the Chinese Empire
William Winterbotham (1763-1829)
London: Printed for the editor; J. Ridgeway [etc.]
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The Tonquinese in their visits and entertainments are very ceremonious.
The person who pays the visit stops at the gate, and gives the porter
certain loose leaves of paper, containing eight or ten pages, in which
are written in large characters his name and titles, together with the
intention of his visit. These leaves are of different forts and colours,
according to the rank and quality of the person to be visited. If the
master of the house is absent, the paper is left with the porter, and
the visit is considered as concluded. A magistrate, when he pays a
visit, must be clothed in a robe of ceremony proper to his employment;
and those who have some distinction, though they hold no public office,
have also particular visiting dresses; and they cannot dispense with the
use of them, without transgressing the established rules of civility.

The person visited receives at the door the person who pays the visit:
they join hands when they accost one another, and, by their gestures
alone, shew a thousand marks of politeness. The master of the house
invites his visitor to enter, by pointing to the door; the person who
pays the visit, as soon as seated, again tells the motive which brought
him thither: the master of the house listens with much gravity, and from
time to time inclines his body, according to the rules of politeness.
Servants afterwards, clothed in dresses of ceremony, bring a triangular
table, upon which are placed cups of tea, together with boxes of betel,
pipes and tobacco.

When the visit is ended, the master of the house re-conducts his guest
to the middle of the street, where renew their reverences, bows,
elevation of hands, and other compliments: when the stranger is
departed, and already advanced, a good way, the matter of the house
lends a footman after him to pay him a fresh compliment; and some time
after the visitor, in his turn, sends back another to thank him, which
terminates the visit.

It is not only in visits that this troublesome politeness is displayed;
but in all their actions which have any relation to society. The
Tonquinese, in eating, instead of forks, use small flicks made of ebony
or ivory, with the extremities ornamented with gold or silver: they
never touch any food with their fingers; and, when at table, they appear
to eat in unison; the motion of their hands and jawbones seeming to
depend upon some particular rules. They never use napkins, nor are their
tables covered with a cloth; they are only surrounded with long
embroidered carpets, which hang down to the floor. Every person has a
table for himself, unless too great a number of guests obliges two to
fit together.

The person who invites to an entertainment, sends, the evening before,
to his intended guests, a few leaves of invitation, in which is
contained a kind of bill of fare.

On the day appointed for the entertainment, he sends early in the
morning a paper like the former, to remind the guests of their
invitation; and when the hour of repast approaches, he sends a third
paper, with a servant to conduct them, and to acquaint them how
impatient he is to see them; when the company are assembled, and are
about to sit down to table, the master of the house takes a cup of gold
or silver, and, lifting it up with both hands, salutes the person of the
greatest rank on account of his employment: he then proceeds to the
outer court, where, after having turned himself towards the south, and
offered wine to the tutelary spirits who preside over the house, he
pours it out in form of a libation. After this ceremony, every one
approaches the table destined for him, but before they sit down they
waste above an hour in paying compliments; and the matter of the house
has no sooner done with one, than he begins with another.—When they have
occasion to drink, compliments begin afresh: they drink a great deal,
but slowly, and at several times; and when they begin to grow merry,
discuss various topics; and sometimes play at small games, in which
those who lose are condemned to drink.

Comedies and forces are often represented during these repasts; but they
are always intermixed with the most wretched and frightful music. The
actors in these domestic comedies are boys between the age of twelve and
fifteen, who, like European strollers, go from province to province, and
are every where considered as the dregs of the people. They have,
however, most astonishing memories; they carry their theatrical
apparatus along with them, together with a volume containing their
comedies, generally to the amount of forty or fifty, which they present;
and when a piece is fixed on, they immediately perform it, without any

About the middle of the entertainment one of the performers goes round
to all the tables, and begs of the guests; the servants of the house do
the fame, and carry to their matters whatever money they receive: a new
repast is then displayed before the company, which is destined for their

The end of these entertainments is generally suited to the beginning.
The guests praise in detail the excellence of the dishes and the
politeness and generosity of their host, who, on his part, makes a
number of excuses, and begs pardon, with many low bows, for not having
treated them according to their merit.