China and the Chinese

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China and the Chinese
China and the Chinese: their religion, character, customs, and manufactures; the evils arising from the opium trade: with a glance at our religious, moral, political, and commercial intercourse with the country.
Sirr Henry Charles (1807-1872)
London: Wm. S. Orr & Co.
Sirr is the surname of the author.
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The only circumstance, inconsistent with our notions of good breeding,
to be witnessed at a Chinese dinner table, is that during and after the
meal, eructations are heard around, to a disgusting extent; this
practice is indulged in, for the purpose of evincing how good the food
is, and how fully the guests have satisfied the cravings of hunger; for
according to Chinese ideas, a stigma would be cast upon the host and
entertainment were these unmusical sounds omitted.

As soon as the lengthy repast was over, tea was handed round as before,
the host ushering his visitors to the theatre to witness dramatic
representations, and pyrtechnic display. The costumes of the actors were
rich, (being that of the ancient Chinese, which is invariably used upon
the stage, although it differs little from that of the present day) both
for the male and female characters; the latter being performed by
youths, as women rarely, if ever appear on the stage.

Each character, upon coming on the stage, advanced to the front of it,
and informed the audience whom he represented, and what he was about to
perform. A singer dressed in female attire excited much applause, by
uttering to our ears, most inharmonious and unmusical sounds whilst
twanging an abominable accompaniment on a three-stringed instrument,
resembling a guitar. A buffoon caused much laughter and merriment by his
clever repartee and witty speeches; a distressed damsel appealed to the
softer feelings, whilst a tyrannical father excited the bitterer portion
of our nature. Processions of soldiers appeared continually on the
stage, apparently to us, for the express purpose of walking off again;
as these gentry were perpetually walking across the stage making their
exit on one side, to reappear at the other.

We could not enter fully into the various smart things that were uttered
by the respective characters, but conclude they must have been most
excellent, from the evident delight of the numerous friends, that had
been invited to witness the performances; and from the shrill laughter
and applause, heard from the lattice above, where the ladies of the
family were seated unseen, to behold the representation.[1]

The Chinese are proficients in the pyrotechnic art, and the fireworks
which were exhibited at the end of this entertainment were chef d’œuvre
of skill—the four elements having been called into requisition to
furnish animals, birds, fishes, and reptiles, both real and imaginary;
from whose bodies issued streams of flame. Fire dragons ascended into
the air, and were metamorphised into fire-vomiting lions; a huge bird of
some unknown species, fluttered in the air in a sheet of flame,
presently a huge serpent crawled from out of the beak of the bird, and
was lost to view in many tinted flames; one large lantern ascended, in a
mass of fire, from which smaller lanterns issued, which in their turn
sent forth various and innumerable forms. On the back of an enormous
fish was seated a portly mandarin, from whose aldermanic corporation
burst forth streams of fire, which appeared to cause intense delight,
and excite the greatest merriment amongst the spectators. The last
firework was by far the beautiful and perfect, being completely artistic
in its details; this represented a mandarin’s house with the whole of
the adjacent buildings belonging to the residence, the roofs being
ornamented with bells and figures; this burned for some short time, and
then changed into a mandarin seated in his sedan-chair, with the usual
train of attendants, bearing flags, beating gongs, and carrying
lanterns; the effect of this mass of many-coloured flames, defining the
outline of the various forms baffles description; and as the last sparks
died away, we could have been tempted to follow Oliver Twist’s example,
and asked for more. It is the custom of the country, after an
entertainment, to send presents to the host, which usually consist of a
chest of tea, a pecul of sugar candy, fruits, and edibles of a less
expensive nature; the party who receives the presents, invariably gives
the servants of the donor, who bring the gifts, a cum shaw of some few
dollars, which the domestics divide equally amongst the head servants of
the establishment; at all events, they profess to do so.

[1] This species of entertainment is termed in Anglo-Chinese, a