The History of China

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The History of China
The History of China: Upon the plan of Mr. Rollin's Antient history
François-Marie de Marsy (1714-1763)
London: J. & P. Knapton
Translation of Histoire moderne des Chinois, des Japonais, des Indiens, des Persans, des Turcs, des Russiens, &c. : pour servir de suite à l'Histoire ancienne de M. Rollin, by Marsy (missing from our catalogue)
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Dramatic Performances, and Music.

THE Chinese have no public Theatres, as with us, either through want of
taste for such diversions, or because the strictness of their morals
will not permit them to give a publick sanction to such dangerous
entertainments: however, there are few towns of note in which there are
not some companies of actors, who go about playing their farces, as they
are sent for; and when any Grandee makes a publick entertainment, he
seldom fails to divert his guests in this way. The chief that can be
laid in favour of their dramatic performances is, that they seldom
contain any thing offensive to the laws of virtue or decency; but as to
the unities of the drama, the regularity of the plot, or the rules of
probability, these are little observed. P. de Premare has given us a
translation of a Chinese Tragedy, taken from a collection which is said
to contain a hundred of their best pieces: this Tragedy is called The
little Orphan of the House of Tchao: This orphan is supposed to be the
son of a Minister of State named Tchao, who falling into disgrace
through the intrigues of another Minister called Tou ngan, loses his
life, and leaves behind him a posthumous son, who in the end revenges
his father’s death. All this series of actions is represented in the
Tragedy. Tou ngan makes his appearance in the first scene, saying, I am
Tou ngan, First Minister of War; and then he tells the audience how he
had obtained an order from the King to send to Tchao a cord, a cup of
poisoned wine, and a poignard, commanding him to chuse one of these
three kinds of death. Tchao enters in the second scene, and says, I am
Tchao, Minister of State; every one in like manner declaring who he is
upon his first appearance on the stage. In the fame scene the messenger
arrives from the King, and delivers his fatal message. Tchao makes
choice of the poignard, and kills himself in the presence of his wife,
whom he leaves big with child, and who in the interval betwixt the
second and third scenes is delivered of a son, viz., the Orphan, whose
history is the subject of the piece. In the fourth scene his mother
appears again upon the stage; and in the fifth strangles herself. The
other parts of the play are conducted much in the same taste.

These dramatic entertainments are generally interluded with songs and
symphonies betwixt the scenes, though their music of this kind has in it
a flatness and monotony which would offend the delicacy of an European
ear; notwithstanding the Chinese are greatly charmed with it. This
people lay claim to the first invention of music, and pretend that in
former times this art was carried to the highest pitch of perfection
among them; but if this be so, it must be granted that they are greatly
degenerated since that time in this particular. That music was in high
esteem formerly among the Chinese must be allowed; since their History
informs us, that Confucius endeavoured to introduce the study of it into
the different provinces where he was made Governor; and the Chinese to
this day lament the loss of those books which their ancestors wrote on
this art: but however this be, certain it is that their knowledge of
music is at this time far from being considerable: they do not play by
book, but all by the ear, having no music characters; and they use one
and the same part both for vocal and instrumental: they have no notion
of semi-tones, and do not raise and sink their voice beyond a third, a
fifth, and an octave; and yet P. Du Halde does not scruple to say, that
some of their tunes are far from being disagreeable.

The Chinese seem to like our vocal music well enough, provided that it
be performed by a single voice, and repeated in chorus at the end of the
period; but as to singing in different parts, and the contrast betwixt
voices and instruments, this they treat not only as disharmony, but as
ridiculous cacophony. The Emperor Cang hi was much pleased with hearing
the Fathers Grimaldi and Pereira play on the harpsichord, and took a
fancy to learn upon that instrument himself; and as he was one day
playing a Chinese air to them, Father Pereira took out his pocket-book,
and pricking down the tune, play’d it immediately after him. The Emperor
was surprized at this, and asked the Missionary how he was able to learn
a tune so quick, when his most skilful musicians could not make
themselves masters of it without practising it several times? The Father
answered, that the Europeans had learned the art of noting down founds
on paper, by the help of certain characters which they made use of for
that purpose; and to give him farther satisfaction in that matter, he
gave him repeated proofs of his art. The Emperor was so taken with the
excellency of the invention, that he instituted an academy of music, and
made one of his own sons president.

This people makes use of several sorts of instruments of a particular
invention, some made of metal, others of stone: of the latter kind is
one which resembles our trumpet: they have some covered with skins, like
our drums; some of which are so heavy, that they cannot use them without
resting them on wooden supporters. They have many sorts of stringed
instruments, the strings of which are for the most part made of silk,
few of them of gut: the generality of these have but three strings for
the bow, though they have one sort consisting of seven strings, which
makes tolerable music. They have likewise instruments made all of wood,
the parts of which they clap and rattle together: [perhaps not unlike
the droll music of our salt-box] one of these clattering instruments is
much used by the Bonzés, and they handle it very dexterously. Lastly,
the Chinese are not without their wind-instruments, as several sorts of
flutes, and a kind of organ composed of many pipes, but withal of so
diminutive a size, that a man may carry it in his hands. The authors to
whom I am indebted for several of these particulars, mention, that
Father Pereira, the Jesuit, having found means to enlarge an organ,
which the Emperor made him a present of, he placed it in the church of
the Jesuits at Pe king, and play’d several pieces on it before a crouded
audience of Chinese, who were charmed with the novelty and harmony of
the music.