ASIA AND ITS INHABITANTS
At the end of a street terminating at the northern wall of the city, was a vast edifice of considerable height, which contained an enormous bell. The English explored the town in various directions, and on the whole were not favourably impressed. They concluded that a Chinaman visiting London, with its bridges and innumerable ships, its squares and monuments, would carry away a better idea of the importance of the capital of Great Britain than they could do of Pekin.
Upon their arrival at the palace, where the presents for the emperor were to be displayed, the governor discussed with Macartney the best way to arrange and display them. They were finally placed in a large and well-decorated hall, which at the time contained nothing but a throne and a few vases of old china.
It is unnecessary to enter upon the interminable negotiations which arose out of the resolve of the Chinese, that Macartney should prostrate himself before the emperor; which humiliating proposition they had prepared for by the inscription placed upon the yachts and carriages of the embassy, "Ambassador bringing tribute from England."
|The Emperor of China.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)
It is in Pekin that the field is situated which the emperor, in accordance with ancient custom, sows every spring. Here, too, is to be found the "Temple of the Earth," to which the sovereign resorts at the summer solstice, to acknowledge the astral power which lightens the world, and to give thanks for its beneficent influence.
Pekin is merely the seat of the Imperial government in China, and has neither shipping, manufactures, nor trade.
Macartney computes the number of inhabitants at three millions. The one-storied houses in the town appear insufficient for so large a population, but a single house accommodates three generations. This density of the population is the result of the early ages at which marriages are contracted. These hasty unions are often brought about from prudential motives by the Chinese, the children, and especially the sons, being responsible for the care of their parents.
The embassy left Pekin on the 2nd of September, 1793, Macartney, travelling in a post-chaise, probably the first carriage of the kind which ever entered Tartary.
As the distance from Pekin increased, the road ascended and the soil became more sandy, and contained less and less clay and black earth. Shortly afterwards, vast plains, planted with tobacco, were crossed. Macartney imagines tobacco to be indigenous, and not imported from America, and thinks that the habit of smoking was spontaneous in Asia.
The English soon noticed that as the soil became more and more barren, the population decreased. At the same time the Tartar element became larger and larger, and the difference between the manners of the Chinese and their conquerors was less marked.
Upon the fifth day of the journey, the far-famed Great Wall was seen.
"The first glance at this fortified wall," says Macartney, "is enough to give an impression of an enterprise of surprising grandeur. It ascends the highest mountains to their very loftiest peaks, it goes down into the deepest valleys, crossing rivers on sustaining arches, and with its breadth often doubled and trebled to increase its strength, whilst at intervals of about a hundred paces rise towers or strong bastions. It is difficult to understand how the materials for this wall were brought to and used in places apparently inaccessible, and it is impossible sufficiently to admire the skill brought to bear upon the task. One of the loftiest mountains over which the wall passes has been ascertained to be no less than 5225 feet high.
"This fortification—for the simple word 'wall' gives no just idea of the wonderful structure—is said to be 1500 miles long, but it is not quite finished. The fifteen hundred miles was the extent of the frontier which separates colonized China from the various Tartar tribes. Such barriers as these would not suffice in modern times for nations at war.
"Many of the lesser works in the interior of this grand rampart have yielded to the effect of time, and fallen into ruins; others have been repaired; but the principal wall appears throughout to have been built with such care and skill as never to have needed repairs. It has now been preserved more than two thousand years, and appears as little susceptible of injury as the rocks which nature herself has planted between China and Tartary."
|The great wall of China.|
Beyond the wall nature seems to proclaim the entrance into a new country; the temperature is colder, the roads are more rugged, and the mountains are less wooded. The number of sufferers from goître in the Tartar valleys is very considerable, and, according to the estimate given by Dr. Gillan, physician to the embassy, comprises a sixth of the population. The portion of Tartary in which this malady rages is not unlike many of the cantons of Switzerland and Savoy.