Narrative of a Journey in the Interior of China

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Narrative of a Journey in the Interior of China
Narrative of a journey in the interior of China, and of a voyage to and from that country, in the years 1816 and 1817: containing an account of the most interesting transactions of Lord Longman, Hurst, Amhersts embassy to the court of Pekin, and observations on the countries which it visited
Clarke Abel (1780-1826)
London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown
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Nearly two hours had elapsed before His Excellency re-appeared in the
banquetting-room. It was impossible to doubt the cause of his delay: he
was arguing the question of prostration. We looked at the screen with
unpleasant anticipations, as the Chinese pointed to the carpets, and
most significantly acquainted us, that on them we must knock our heads.
At length the Ambassador came and informed us of the nature of the
ceremony that he intended to go through. It was of the same kind, he
observed, as that which he sometimes performed before the empty throne
of his own sovereign: he should bow as often as the Mandarins prostrated
themselves. He then advanced towards the screen, and was placed, with
Sir George Staunton, Mr. Ellis, and Mr. Morrison, immediately before it,
having six Mandarins of high rank on his right-hand, and the gentlemen
of his suite behind him. At a signal given by an officer, who uttered a
few words[1] in an exalted and singing tone, the Mandarins fell on their
knees, and, inclining their heads, knocked them three times against the
ground, and then arose. A second and a third time the signal was
repeated, and a second and a third time they knelt and knocked their
heads thrice against the earth. The Commissioners and the gentlemen of
the suite bowed respectfully nine times.

When the ceremony was completed, His Excellency, Sir George Staunton,
and Mr. Ellis, were conducted to the tables prepared for them on the
right, whilst the principal Mandarins seated themselves at others on the
left, assuming to themselves the place of honour.[2]

A crowd of servants immediately entered, bringing trays containing part
of the feast, which they placed on the tables. Four courses were served:
the first consisting of soup, said to be composed of mares’ milk and
blood; the second, of sixteen dishes of fruits and dried meats; the
third, of eight basins of stewed sharks’ fins, birds’ nests, harts’
sinews, and other viands used by the Chinese for their supposed
aphrodisial virtues; and the fourth, of twelve bowls of different kinds
of meat cut into small pieces, and floating in gravy. In addition to the
usual Chinese table apparatus of chop-sticks and porcelain spoons, we
were supplied with four pronged silver forks, curved like a scymetar.
The wine, made from rice, was contained in small earthen kettles, from
which it was poured into porcelain cups, by servants bending on one
knee, and was drunk warm.

During the feast, a play was performed; and, at its close, feats of
tumbling were exhibited. The dresses of the performers were very
gorgeous, and were said to resemble those worn by the Chinese before the
Tartar conquest. Confusion and noise were the only circumstances of the
performance which impressed themselves upon me, for I could understand
no part of the story. The tumbling was more expressive of strength and
agility. After continuing at table about an hour, we rose, and the
performance ceased. The back part of the theatre was then thrown open,
and disclosed a long passage of painted matting, terminated by a rude
drawing of a large dragon.

Having returned to our boats in the same order in which we had left
them, we received presents of silk, cotton, and the remains of the feast
Each gentleman was presented with four pieces of coloured silk; and each
of the servants, guard and band, with four of coloured cotton. His
Excellency, Sir George Staunton, and Mr. Ellis, received separate

[1] Mr. Bell, in speaking of the ceremony performed by the Russian
Ambassador before the Emperor, at Pekin, states, that “The Master of the
Ceremonies stood by and delivered his orders in the Tartar language, by
pronouncing the words morgu and boss: the first meaning to bow, and the
other to stand.” “Two words,” he adds, “I shall never forget.”

[2] De Guignes states, that “the place of honour amongst the Chinese is
on the right; amongst the Tartars, on the left;” an observation we had
no opportunity of verifying. In every instance of ceremonial observance
which we saw in China, the left was the situation of honour.