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the offerings made at the sacrifices, to their memory; which should they even condescend to do, they would share the worst of the feast, for as Mr. De Pauw observes, "The visible assistants take care to have the best portion, like the Laplanders, who devour the flesh of the victims, and afterwards present the bones to the gods!
That the Chinese are not, as has been conjectured, the posterity of a colony of Egyptians, is irrefragably demonstrated by two observable facts; the total dissimilarity of their religion,* and the essential difference of their physical qualities aud constitution; the former will be shown, when we touch in another Essay on the religion of the Chinese; the other we pronounce indisputable, from the concurring authority of several intelligent travellers,t who represent them as a distinct and not a mixed race; strongly expressed in their countenance and figure, which is remarkably unlike the ancient Egyptian. But independent of the latter argument, which however is of considerable importance, we shall insist more emphatically on the first, as it is a truth tioned by the experience of mankind, that religious impressions are more permanent in their existence, and less obnoxious to be effaced, than any other sentiment of the mind, or propensity of nature. That the fervid constitutions and peculiar genius of Oriental Nations, is more favourable to the perpetuity of religious dogmas, and superstitious ceremonies, than any other human right, law, or privilege; in evidence of which I shall only adduce the history of that unfortunate people, the Jews, who in the remotest corners of the globe, to which destiny and persecution forced them, always inviolably maintained their religion, in opposition to malignity, and in total neglect of the highest indignities. In China they have preserved it as in other parts of the world, unvitiated and entire.
It is alleged by those who affirm the Chinese to be the descendants of an Egyptian colony, and who are puzzled to discover that analogy or resemblance in their religion or nature, which
This is evinced in Mr. De Pauw's Philosophical Dissertation, to which I refer the curious reader.
$ See Staunton's Embassy. Barrow's Journey, &c
would sustain their system; that there is perceptible a perfect coincidence in many of their habits, and in some respects in their manners. And it'was thought a conclusive argument in favour of this cognation, that the people who navigate the barks on the Nile, wore round and pointed bonnets, similar to those used in China;* and that the Egyptian boats should bear some resemblance to the Chinese junks; not considering, that nations exposed to the same inconveniences, and endued with the same fa. culties, would naturally have recourse to the same expedients to guard against, or remedy their effects; and that the same wants would suggest similar necessaries. For we do not deny that all men are the descendents of Adam, or sprang from the same human stock; but that the Chinese are not the posterity of the Egyptians.
When a plausible hypothesis is confuted, or a pernicious system overturned by the arguments of reason, the mind instinctively expects that some thesis will be established in its stead, or an expedient proposed to remedy or meliorate the evil: but as it is easier to object than to reason, to discern folly than acquire wisdom, so it is more difficult to establish facts, than subvert fallacy. That China however was never visited by a colony from Egypt is indubitable; but that the inhabitants are of Scythian or Tartaric origin, is rendered almost certain by the perfect similitude subsisting between them, and the Mun-tchoo, and other Tartar tribes, on the borders of China. In attestation of this genealogy, an ingenious philosophert adds, the strict conformity of their religion, superstitious ceremonies, and fabulous traditions. The idiocracy of the Tartars and Chinese likewise tends to strengthen this position: for it is an eminent circumstance, that the physical qualities of these people, is of itself convincing evidence of a distinct origin from the Egyptians; and sufficient to preserve their identity unmingled with people of distant regions or opposite naturcs.
To endeavour to account for the origin of the Tartars or Scythians, would neither throw light on the subject, nor recom
* Abbè Barthelemy.
† M. De Pauw, vol. 2. p. 179.
pense labour by any accession of knowledge. Mr. Barrow, who has observed the manners, and recorded the peculiarities of the Chinese, with a precision implying a spirit of true philosophy, has in attempting to account for the original of this primitive people, run into idle and futile conjectures, without reflecting, that the investigations of the philososopher must always terminate in principles insoluble, and phenomena beyond the reach of finite ingenuity to resolve. He however appears to have no inclination to be inferior to other philosophers, in learned absurdity, and unfathomable penetration; and accordingly with the utmost facility of supposition, he brings the ARK, and the whole family of Noah from mount Ararat in Armenia, to the bleak mountains of Tartary, inhabited by the Eleuths; and leaves Noah and his descendants to wander thence through the perishing regions of Kamtschatha, to people America; and through the immeasurable extent of country, which lies between Tartary and the remote nations of Europe: thereby throwing as much obstruction in the way of those philosophers, who shall attempt to account for the original of the American aborigines, as he has so easily cleared from his own path. Nor were these puerilities easy to be avoided on so dark a subject, where the indistinct and glimmering beams elicited by the inquirer, tend rather to perplex than instruct; to show the magnitude of his difficulties, without giving him the means to remove or lessen them.
From the annals of the Chinese, it is almost impossible to guess the period to which we should refer the commencement of their existence as a nation; so blended with childish fables, and ridiculous events, is their whole history; and so confused and contradictory is their boasted chronology. Who would believe, for instance that there ever existed such a being as Fo-hi, the first emperor, when they read that he was called the Son of Heaven, because he invented the eight Koua, or symbols of three lines each, and taught the people how to apply these characters, in which his laws were written; and to give the greater force to which, «he declared that he had seen them traced upon the back of a dragon-horse, which rose from the bottom of a lake; he called it a dragon-horse, because it had the shape of a horse, and the scales and wings of a dragon." And that with
no more than these eight general symbols, he should create a mandarin, called the flying-dragon to compose books; a hiddendragon, to make the calendar; and a resident dragon to take the superintendance of the buildings. The third emperor, Hoangti was likewise a son of Heaven, having been delivered on a mountain by his mother, when she was much disordered by the sudden percussion of Thunder. Of a like complexion is most part of their history; and at what period the first seven Emperors reigned, cannot be ascertained, their chronology not being intelligible till the time of Yao, the eighth prince, from which the most vehement advocates of their antiquity date their epocha; being about 2200 years antecedent to the birth of Christ, in their chronology.* Allowing then the accuracy of this era, of which many reasonable doubts are entertained, we shall find them only coetaneous to the Assyrians, whose empire was founded 2204 years before Christ; and of the same age with the Egyptians, who like them absurdly conceited that their origin was lost in the mist of infinite ages, and as they could not penetrate its obscurity, they reasonably determined to fix its duration, at twenty thousand years; reasonably I say, in comparison to the Chinese whose historians are not satisfied with a shorter period, than a million of millions of years!
There are however, many forcible arguments in favour of the conclusion, that the Chinese are posterior in age to both the Assyrians and the Egyptians, and that their origin cannot be fixed so early as the reign of Yao. In the History of every people, we perceive distinctly, a considerable void between their first settlements, and the invention of the arts and sciences; and instead of rising to perfection in the course of one reign, we find them to have been polished by successive generations, and refined by laborious investigation, and continued experience. This is the method of Nature, exemplified successively in the Assyrians, and the Egyptians, the two first nations of the world eminent in science, down to the Greeks, and Romans, and lastly in Modern Europe. But we in vain seek for similitude in the Chinese, to other beings; and consequently discover them, to be possessed of more knowledge, endued with superior sagacity, and withal sunk in
* Du Ilalde, 1, D. 282
the greatest barbarity, in the reign of the first emperor Fo-HI, than they have been since able to acquire; and could not degenerate into the same barbarism because they have never been refined. Although they ascribe to Fo-hi the invention of astronomy, and the discovery of the calendar, which knowledge was so greatly improved by Hoang-ti, the third emperor, that he was capable of predicting the changes of the weather, and the temperature of the atmosphere.* Yet notwithstanding this divine perfection, in the first three reigns of their history, before other nations would have emerged from the obscurity of ignorance, we perceive their chronology confused and erroneous, in the middle of the seventeenth century, being destitute of even the first principles of astronomy, and as unable to calculate an almanac, as to foretel an eclipse.f Their extreme ignorance of geography, implies their want of astronomical knowledge, as it is hardly to be imagined, that a nation versed in the latter, would consider the earth square, and their own empire the middle space, like those people who supposed that the sun made his course from east to west in the day; and when the veil of night concealed his resplendent rays, returned the same way to the east, to be ready to perform his diurnal peregrination the next morning!
The searching eye of the curious traveller in perambulating the unbounded plains of China, explores in vain to discover the monuments of that antiquity, which their tradition records, and their superstition magnifies; he can discern no venerable remnant of former grandeur, to awaken his sympathy, or excite his admiration; no memorial of the illustrious dead, recals the wisdom of the sage to his remembrance; and no field made sa cred by the conquest of liberty inspires his breast with patriotism: the only monument to verify their past existence, is in the tyranny of the government, the degradation of the people, and the inveteracy of their customs. The sepulchral monuments of their sovereigns, being badly constructed with wood, have perished with the bodies which they enclosed, and no vestige remains of their ineffectual ostentation: and even the walls, the
* Du Halde, 1, p. 275. † This subject will be discusssed more particularly in another Essays on the Chinese Sciences and Arts."