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ed observations," and by practice and experience have attained some degree of accuracy; or imagine with more reason and probability, that they were destitute of science, and not in existence at that youth of nature. * _But granting that the accuracy of this is certain, and that the errors in their chronology prevent its agreement with our calculations, may it not reasonably be supposed that they would hold it of sufficient importance, to calculate these appearances retrograde, at a late period; to fabricate some decent evidence for their absurd systeins? which by the way, they can scarcely maintain, by the multiplied means of deception, the force of education and habit, and the dread of death.
The development of history which had been lost in the tumults of war and discord, or buried beneath the rubbish of intervening barbarity and ignorance, has given more occupation to over-curious historians, and enthusiastic antiquaries, than it has yielded recompense for their labour: and in disentangling incidents and events, as uninteresting as uninstructive to mankind, have lost themselves in such an abyss of inquiry and conjecture, as to dispute the authenticity of historical facts which are detailed with minuteness and perspicuity; or do not require the aid of overburdened intellect, to render them intelligible to the most common understanding. And how pitiable do the faculties of that man appear, whom we perceive vehemently insisting on events, implied in the almost obliterated date and expression of a medal, or coin; while he reviles the most sacred and indubitable histories, because they accord not with his fantastic notions, and are too simple to be true.f It is not therefore astonishing to find the cavilling spirit of Voltaire, who has entailed ignominy on the name of philosophy, as prostituted to his abominable purposes, acquiescing with readiness and approbation, in all the chimeras of Chinese imagination, without apparently adverting to his exposure thereby, or being conscious of his egregious inconsistency: it was sufficient for his conviction that their history was doubtful; and favourable to his doctrine, that they
* 2155 years A. C.
+ See Gibbon's Roman Empire, Voltaire, &c. &c.
had no other than natural religion, corrupted by the follies of the people, and innovated by the policy of the sovereign.
Such abuses, however, do not detract from the credit of any historic evidence, whether implied in the characters of a coin, or expressed in the page of story; if not perverted from truth, and rendered improbable and obscure by futile conjecture. It is esteemed ample testimony, by the enthusiastic admirers of China, in favour of their early existence, that they possess coins denoting to have been struck in the first dynasties, or rather supposed to have bcen, as this proof like every other of the kind, is very defective, these ancient coins having been discovered in the banks of the Yellow River; ulid it is sagaciousiy fancied, that as the characters are onlirera.id, if any were ever imprinted on them, as none can now be discerned, th:t the earth inust have a corrosive quality, so as to have destroyed the metal*; and but for this vile earth, they would probably be enabled to sustain their system by this evidence. Yet from the nature of the inscribed character were it even legible and entire it would be difficult, if not impossible to assign the particular dynasty to which it belonged, and to determine its exact age; for it is thought derogatory to the dignity and sublime nature of the prince, that his image, by being engraved on the coin, should be profaned by the touch of the vulgar and ignoble; and consequently they have inscribed only some pompous title on the coins made in the different years of their reign; and which from the vanity of the nation, may be applied with equal certainty and reason, to every sovereign in their history Thus were there no other objection to these vague memorials of their age, they would only cvince that they were made in some propitious year of one of the emperors, and would leave us ignorant of the time, or the dynasty, without recurring to their history for information, which history they are alleged to prove and to authenticate. Hence it is obviously perceived that such coins or medals cannot demonstrate the supposed antiquity of this people, as their probable signification rests upon their fabulous records, which they are adduced to corroborate. That the emperor Cang-hi, whose cabinet
* Du Halde, History of China, vol.2, p. 290.
of ancient and modern coins, has given the missionaries, and credulous travellers such great. cause for wonder and amaze. ment, should have experienced no difficulty, with the assistance of the Mandarin Tsiang, president of a learned academy, in ranging these ancient coins in the proper order of the dynasties, is not astonishing in the least, for it is surely as easy a matter for the emperor and court, to make one absurdity consonant with another, as to unite a history of preceding ages which never existed; or establish the belief of it by the dread of strangulation and of torture. This supposition is authorised by the facts alone, and the difficulty of otherwise accounting for such a coincidence; for it is certain that the coins could not be referred to their respective reigns in which they were struck, by the mere vague inscriptions on the face of them, and some of them destitute of any. But in support of this opinion, we shall cite the account of the missionaries themselves, who not unfrequently contradict their own statements, as is apparent in this instance. Father Du Halde, after noticing the loss of all the coins of the first dynasties, or of the earliest ages of the empire, says: “ But they have supplied this deficiency with PASTEBOARD MONEY, made according to the idea the ancient books give thereof. The proportions are so well kept, and the colours of the metal so well imitated, that this COUNTERFEIT COIN SEEMS TO BE TRULY ANCIENT." The ancient books he here mentions are the fabulous histories of which we deny the authenticity, at least it is reasonable to apprehend that they are of the same complexion, and entitled to the same degree of credibility. Here is an exposure of an imperial cheat, which would sanction any allegations of deceit, falsehood, and fabrication; and we cannot hesitate to believe, that a people and prince so totally devoid of truth and honesty in the advancement of their interests, and the gratification of their vanity, would be studiously pertinacious in sustaining what they had once advanced; and would never relinquish any dogma or absurdity, which would tend to elevate them in the eyes of others, or please their vanity, by conceited superiority.
In the detail thus terminated, of the claims of the Chinese to so great antiquity, we have studied as much conciseness as was
consistent with perspicuity, on a subject which is interesting only to very few, and to many arid and unpleasing. Their assertions we have endeavoured to disprove, by the facts which were accessible to us, without adhering to the restraints of system, which we disregarded because our aim was truth. That these facts are not always as full and explicit, as philosophy might desire, or indolence wish, is rather to be ascribed to the policy of the government, which is the subject of them, than to want of inquiry or attention in the travellers who have visited the court of China, or explored the country.
Indeed much more is expected from this people, than they possess to give; and as whatever is hid from research, by the restraints of care or jealousy, is magnified by the imagination to an unnatural bigness, so the paucity of objects in China, respecting science, arts, history, politics or poetry, has, by being withheld from the inquiries of the curious, augmented to possessions, which if real would stamp them the first of nations; but which by diminishing to barbarity, in the pregnancy of hope and expectation, lessens even the importance they deserve to hold in our estimation, as a people, debased by tyranny, immersed in superstition, and sunk in vice.
From these considerations, it is apparent, that it would prove no less difficult to conjecture the precise date of their origin, or settlement in China, than to account for the origin of the American aborigines; for as one part of their history is equally entitled to credit with another, and as all of it abounds in fables, and is disgraced with puerilities, there is no ground left on which a supposition might reasonably be formed.
Some light however may be elicited from a comparison of the Tartars with the Chinese, from which they are evidently descended,-as their features, nature and constitution sufficientiy evince them to be of one common stock; and that China was anciently settled by the wandering hordes of this people, who were impelled by necessity to seek for that subsistence abroad, which the immensity of their numbers, and the sterility of the soil, denied them at home; and which,
« Drove martial horde on horde with dreadful sweep,
An industrious traveller, in proof of this similarity and identity of the Tartars and Chinese,* has given in his work several inscriptions in the Tartar character, which were discovered on a rock, which from its situation and form, he conjectures to be a gepulchre; these characters have a great resemblance to the Chinese in their form, though they are less complicated; and denote a language inferior in copiousness and refinement to the Chinese, though obviously derived from the same root of hieroglyphic symbols. But he draws a curious inference from this coincidence, imagining that the Chinese in the earliest ages, sent colonies into Scythia and Tartary, which in the course of time was too closely assimilated with the natural Scythians, to be discriminated. This conjecture is however highly improbable; for who vould migrate from the congenial and friendly plains of China, where a comfortable subsistence might be obtained with less labour, and enjoyed with more happiness, to the cold and sterile soil of Tartary and Scythia, where labour is scantily recompensed, and enjoyed with discomfort? It is likewise more natural that language should acquire refinement, as age and civilization advanced, than that it should degenerate by change of clime, or become simplified by the sagacity of exiled barbarians. Nor is there any reason to conclude, that China was at 80 early a date, crowded with inhabitants to so great a degree as to induce them to quit their native country, for either want or convenience in foreign parts: and to exchange the renovating beams of a summer sun, for the frigid regions of the north.
Had the clime of Italy been as unpropitious to the disposition and wants of man, as the country of the Scythians, Huns, and other northern nations who inundated the Roman empire in the fourth century, Rome instead of being subverted by barbarians, would have been probably left to self-annihilation, by her vices and voluptuousness. But the deliciousness of its climate invited invaders from less congenial soils; and as the possession of wealth entices the robber to his prey, did the salubrity of the Roman empire lure the arms of the north to its destruction.
* Strahlenburgh, p. 376. In which work the curious reader will find many antiquifies corroborative of this theory, and much to interest and gratify