THE LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE OF CHINA.* THE appearance of Mr.
Douglas's two lectures in print is matter of congratulation. We have nowhere met within the compass of a small volume so much valuable information on the subject of China, its language and literature. Nor has the writer limited the scope of his work to strictly linguistic or literary questions. There is much that is eminently suggestive in the connection shown to exist between the ancient Egyptian and Assyrian written language, and the formation of the hieroglyphic and symbolic char- acters of the Chinese. Still more interesting are the evidences of an abiding influence upon the national character, quite unequalled either in its extent or duration, dating back to the Confucian era, in the fifth century B.C., and surviving countless changes of dynasty, rulers, and forms of government. The secret of much of the immo- bility and hatred of innovation with which the Chinese as a nation are chargeable, is to be found in their language and their literature, quite as certainly as in the physical geography of a region isolated from the rest of Asia and the world by the sea on one side, and great mountain ranges and the desert of Gobi on the other. The lecturer, adverting to these conditions, and the moral influence exercised by them, observes: "That China should have succeeded in separating herself so long from the rest of the world is doubtless due in a great measure to the geographical position • The Language and Literature of China. Two Lectures, delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in May and June, 1875. By Robert K Douglas, of the British Museum, and Professor of Chinese at Hines College, London. London: Trlibner and Co.
of the country. Bounded on the east by the sea, on the west by vast sandy wastes, on the south and south-west by mountainous
districts, for the most part inhabited by tribes whom it is usual to describe as virtually independent and half-savage, and on the
north by range after range of mountains rising like sharks' teeth from the plain, and dwarfing into insignificance the ' Great Wall,' which remains a monument of the folly as well as the
industry of the Chinese race, she has dwelt, like Lachish of old, quiet and secure, while at the same time the varied extent and richness of her internal resources have enabled her, without
seeking the natural or artificial products of other countries, to supply her people with enough and to spare of all the necessaries of life. Independent, then, of all the world, beyond all comparison more powerful, by reason of her wealth, her size, and the number of her inhabitants, than any of her neigh- bours—a very Triton among minnows, admitting no rivals, and courting no alliances—she stood and was content to stand alone.
Accepting nothing from the world beyond her own frontiers in religion, literature, science, or art which did not fall in with the national views on those subjects, and which she could not make her own ; receiving no impress from without, and rejecting peremptorily everything thrown in her way which was distasteful to her, she brooded over the east of Asia, absorbing only that which assimilated easily with the national tastes and the pre- conceived ideas of the people." And again, following out the same line of thought, he shows how this power of absorption, on the one hand, and absolute unreceptiveness, on the other, in regard to all that did not readily admit of assimilation, helped to stereotype the character of the nation, and make it proof against all external influences :-
" Thus, though in the course of the history of China, tribes from other parts of Asia have, by force of arms, successfully invaded the country, and have entered in and taken possession, thoir advent has in nowise affected the national life ; and when they have yielded their power to others, they have left no more distinctive trace behind them than do mountain torrents when they lose themselves in the ocean."
Anticipating the objection that at least the Chinese of the first century accepted and adopted from India the religion of Buddha, he says :-
"True, they did ; but like the Manchu and Mongolian invaders, it had, if I may so say, to go through the process of digestion and assimi- lation. It was forced into a like mould to those from which had issued forth the national religions of Confucianism and Taouism, and the result has been that practically—of coarse much of the literature still remains Indian—it is difficult to recognise in the beliefs of modern Chinese Buddhists anything more than traces of the pure and lofty teachings of Sakyamuni. But the introduction of Buddhism from India brought to the notice of the Chinese of that day something more than the religions system of its founder. It forced on their attention a comparison between the alphabetical system of writing as existing in Sanscrit and their own unwieldy characters. But neither then, nor at a still earlier period, when their armies marched across Central and Western Asia to the borders of the Caspian Sea, did their acquaintance with the more simple mode of expressing thoughts on paper, employed by the people of some of the countries through which they passed, ever shake their faith for a moment in their native symbols."
One step further, and we trace the continuous influence of this written symbolic mode of expressing their thoughts—exclusively adopted by them, and unchangeable from one generation to another—and how they reacted on the minds of the people and
the national character :—
"For Chinese scholars, it was sufficient to know that their written characters' embalmed the wisdom and reflected the sagacity of ages.' In these Confucius gave vent to his feelings, and in them the followers of the sage had stereotyped his sayings and doings; and like as devout Mohammedans would scorn the notion of transcribing the Koran into any language but that in which Mohammed wrote, so have Chinamen through all ages clung to the form of written character used by Con- fucius, as the only channel through which his ineffable wisdom should be transmitted to future ages. Thus the written character has re- mained unchanged, and is, from a Chinaman's point of view, un- changeable."
When later on we come to the consideration of the slow pro-
cesses of evolution by which this language, such as it has remained for so many ages, was formed, and the archaic forms adopted in the beginning and slowly fossilised into fixed characters, we see how, by a natural sequence, the ideas and thoughts run into these- hard and inelastic moulds, assumed permanent form, and became as little susceptible of flexibility or change as the moulds them- selves. The language and the literature alike under these circum- stances, it is natural to conclude, would have precisely the effect attributed to them—that of narrowing the operations of the
mind—confining them in old-established channels, and repress- ing any instinct of expansion or originality. The final outcome must almost of necessity be distaste for innovation, and a stolid
and unquestioning faith in the unapproachable superiority and ex cellence of its ancient lore over all that was new or modern,--much more, over all that was not Chinese. This, we see, is by no means a mere question of philology and linguistic characteristics. It car-.
ries us into the domain of national life and polity. We see the deter- mining causes of prevailing modes of thought of a people with whom we are now brought into close relations, commercial and diplo- matic, and are ever on the verge of some untoward conflict, from their impassiveness and arrogance ; who can only write in this .symbolic character, and speak in the monosyllabic form that Con- fucius employed some four or five hundred years before the Christian era. Not only is the isolated and unique character of their language a serious impediment to any larger and more civilising intercourse with the rest of the world, but it materially helps to keep up the overweening conceit which is a leading feature in the Chinese of all ranks, together with the apathy which deprives him of all interest in the outside world. There is, however, something to be said on the other side, which does not escape Mr. Douglas, when he points out that, "while
the Chinese have shown themselves thus supremely indifferent to all the world in general,—its arts, its sciences, its opinions, and its
friendships, an almost equal degree of apathy has been displayed by Englishmen concerning everything connected with China ex-
cept her trade." And we quite accept, as well and truly put, the moral he proceeds to draw, when he goes on to point out that,— "A language which is the language of 400,000,000 of our fellow-men, and a literature which goes back to the time of King David, and which found its fullest development before these shores were invaded by the Norman Conquerors, have been passed by as though they possessed no sort of interest to us, who yearly exchange merchandise to the amount of £40,000,000 sterling with the men whose speech we ignore, and whose learning we treat as though it were beneath our notice. Our stake in China is larger than that of nny other European country, and yet, as far as the diffusion of a knowledge of the language is concerned, we are behind both France and Russia. With the exception of two or three scholars, among whom Dr. Birch, of the British Museum, and Mr. Beal, the learned translator of several works on Chinese Buddhism, are chief, the study of Chinese has been with us entirely confined to those who, by the nature of their professional duties, are compelled to grapple with the language. On the other hand, France, who, as a French Consul once said to me, brings to 'China her ideas, while England imports her merchandise, can present a long list of Sinologues, among whom the woll-known names of Julien, Ilaproth, Remusat, and Paulthier claim the pre-eminence, who never trod the soil of China, but who, having devoted themselves to the study of Chinese from a true scholarly instinct, have left behind them, for our benefit, a rich inheritance of knowledge, At the present time, there are three professorial Chairs of Chinese in Paris, and a goodly array of students attend each lecture-room."
In London, he goes on to say, there are indeed two Chairs, one of which, however, has been empty for some time, and what is still leas satisfactory, when filled, disappointed its founder by leaving its occupant undisturbed" in the full disposal of his time. Whether this is to be attributed to any want of confidence in the
teacher, or the total absence of any desire for a knowledge of Chinese among English students, we do not know. Mr. Douglas 'complains that as yet Chinese has been entirely unrepresented either at Oxford or Cambridge, where there would be the beat chance of finding not only that learned leisure best adapted to facilitate the acquirement of an Oriental language, by men who have passed the period of ordinary pupilage, but a class of Undergraduates with both leisure and means to prosecute any study outside the usual curriculum, and from the pure desire for knowledge. In any case, the apparent failure in London should not be considered decisive of the question, and until one or both of our great Universities have made the trial, by consti- tuting Chairs and securing thoroughly qualified Professors to give instruction, it cannot be said that any adequate attempt to supply the national deficiency has been made.
We are glad, therefore, to learn that a movement has lately been commenced by an active and influential Committee for the establishment of a Chinese Professorship at the older Uni- versity. We can only hope that the effort will be successful, and that the Hebdomadal Board will give the proposal a favourable hearing. This is most especially to be desired at the present moment, for we learn, what all who are interested in the study of Oriental languages will be glad to know, that should the scheme be carried into effect, Dr. Legge, the well-known translator of the Chinese Classics, and one of the most distinguished of living Chinese scholars, will probably be the first occupant of the Chair. What the author tells us of the exaggerated notions prevailing as to the all but insuperable difficulty of the language cannot be too widely known, on the authority of one who has himself over- come those difficulties, and turned his knowledge both of the language and literature of China to such excellent account. His example, and what he has to tell us on the subject, are full of encouragement. He observes that,— "No doubt the difficulties, or the supposed difficulties, of acquiring a knowledge of the language have prevented many English scholars from taking the grammar and dictionary in hand. But I think that I shall be able to show that these difficulties have been much over-rated. Stanislas Julien began the study of Chinese in Paris in the year 1823, and in 1825 he published an excellent translation in Latin of the philosophical works of Mencius, which is certainly not one of the easiest books in the language; and to any one who will bring an equal amount of absorbing energy to the work, the fortified places of Chinese will surely yield, though not perhaps as easily as they did to one who from the first gained for himself a foremost place in the front rank of European Sinolognes."
As a final argument in favour of such a study, Mr. Douglas concludes his first lecture devoted to the language, in terms which we think will be readily concurred in by all who have ever given anythought to the subject, or taken any interest in the daily increasing importance of our relations with China and Eastern Asia:—" It is time that the language was better understood, and at this period of the world's history we cannot afford to leave un- noticed a language so ancient as to dwarf into insignificance the antiquity of Western tongues, and one which is the solitary medium of communication" between us and a third of the human race.