Archive for the ‘The Book Grove 藏书’ Category

Letter to a Chinese Gentleman



Count Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s “Letter to a Chinese Gentleman” (“Письмо китайцу”), written in reply to Ku Hung-ming (Хун-Мину), and translated by Vladimir G. Tchertkoff, was published in English in 1907 by The Free Age Press. The letter was written in October 1906 after Tolstoy received some books from Ku – “Et nunc, reges, intelligite! the moral causes of the Russo-Japanese war” and the “Papers from a Viceroy’s Yamen“.

The letter was first published in German in November 1906 in the “Neue Freie Presse,” then in French in the “Courrier Européen“, in English in “The Free Age” and only lastly – and partially – in Chinese in 1907, both in China and in overseas Chinese publications (in Paris). The letter in full was published in Chinese in China only in early 1911, after Tolstoy’s death, in the “Dongfang” journal  (东方杂志).


It shall be seen that Tolstoy and Ku were in close agreement on the baneful effects of modernization and the myth of progress.

Constitutions, protective tariffs, and standing armies have rendered the Western nations what they are: people who have abandoned agriculture and become unused to it, occupied in towns and factories in the production of articles that are for the most part unnecessary, people who with their armies are adapted only to every kind of violence and robbery. However brilliant their position may appear at first sight, it is a desperate one, and they must inevitably perish if they do not change the whole structure of their life, founded as it now is on deceit and the plunder and pillage of the agricultural nations.

To imitate Western nations, being frightened by their insolence and power, would be the same as if a rational, undepraved, industrious man were to imitate a spendthrift, insolent ruffian who has lost the habit of work and was assaulting him. It would be to successfully oppose an immoral scoundrel by becoming a similar immoral scoundrel oneself. The Chinese should not imitate Western nations, but profit by their example in order to avoid falling into the same desperate straits.

All that the Western nations are doing can and should be an example for the Eastern ones – not, however, an example of what they should do, but of what they should not do under any consideration whatever.

Tolstoy and Ku’s correspondence was not limited to this single exchange of letters; Ku sent a congratulatory telegram to the Russian author on his 80th birthday in August 1908, signed by many eminent Chinese cultural personalities.

Ku Hungming

Ku Hungming

Significantly, Tolstoy considered this brief letter – which can be read as a manifesto – as one of his most important works, along with his “Circle of Reading”. Further commentary would be therefore superfluous.


Download the PDF:

Letter to a Chinese Gentleman


Papers from a Viceroy’s Yamen” (尊王篇), the title of a book by Ku Hung-ming published in 1901, is a collection of rather vitriolic essays on Western encroachment in China, written in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion.

The “Bogdikhan” (usually written as Bogd Khan) was in fact the title of the last Mongolian Emperor, a Buddhist Lama enthroned as emperor.

Read Full Post »


Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

[Ryūnosuke Akutagawa]

A further installment in our series of pieces on and by Ku Hung-ming, [Gū Hóngmíng 辜鴻銘] (1857-1928).


The Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (芥川龍之介, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke), author of “In a Grove” and “Rashomon”, was told before going to China in March 1921: “If you go to Peking, you may skip a visit to the old Imperial Palace, but you must not miss a chance to see Ku Hung-Ming.” Akutagawa’s visit to China lasted four months but due to ill-health he did not write a single article until he returned to Japan. Incidentally, his visit to China also included an interview with the monarchist Zheng Xiaoxu (鄭孝胥), formerly a high-ranking official in the Qing dynasty administration, who was to become Prime Minister of the Japanese-controlled puppet state of Manchuko under the Emperor Puyi.

Ku Hung-ming, Gu Hongming



“Akutagawa did have one other meeting with a Chinese intellectual, though not in Shanghai. Later in his travels, he met with the celebrated arch-reactionary Gu Hongming (1857-1928), who subsequently became an advisor to the warlord Zhang Zuolin. Gu was still wearing his queue, sign of fidelity to the Qing dynasty then ten years defunct, as he greeted his Japanese guest in English, the language they had in common and used for their conversation. While speaking nonstop in English, Gu wrote in Chinese on paper, and somehow Akutagawa conveyed the whole exchange into his travel narrative in Japanese.


Mr. Gu calls himself a man of east, west, south and north. He was born in Fujian province in the south; he studied in Scotland in the west; his wife is Japanese from the east; and he resides in Beijing to the north. He speaks English of course, but German and French as well. However, he is unlike [those associated with] young China. He does not have an inflated opinion of Western civilization. He heaps abuse on Christianity, republicanism, and the omnipotence of machinery. And, when he saw me dressed in Chinese garb, he said: “Not wearing Western clothing is quite admirable, though I do find fault with the lack of the queue!””


[The literature of travel in the Japanese rediscovery of China, 1862-1945 by Joshua A. Fogel.]



Akutagawa dressed in Chinese clothing


[Akutagawa dressed in traditional Chinese garb, as per his description above.]

Read more on Ku Hung-ming

Read Full Post »

“I have rented a temple in the Western Hills, to go there for week-ends, and perhaps for an occasional fortnight in the autumn or spring. It is about eighteen miles from Peking, and one can reach the place easily enough on horseback. Also one can go most of the way by motor, along the new road that branches off to the Summer Palace.

The train that goes to Men-to-kou, on the other side of the mountains, stops at a little station two miles distant from the village of Pa-ta-chu. The name means ‘The Hill of the Eight Sanctuaries’. My temple is one of the eight that mount up the hill-side among the oaks, the maples, and the stunted pines. Both temples and trees nestle in the hollows, where they are protected from the north wind, which keeps the hill-tops shorn of vegetation.

The word ‘temple’ comes from the Greek τέμνειν, which means ‘to cut out, to separate, to isolate’, alluding to the exclusive character of that which is sacred to the gods. But Chinese gods, though sometimes fierce and terrifying, are not exclusive. They like company and are not particular what company they keep.” (Varè, ‘The Gate of Happy Sparrows’)

“As on my former mission in China, I rented a temple in the Western Hills. It was an isolated temple close to Pa-ta-chu, but in a little valley of its own. It was called the Pi-mo-yen. So many translations were given to me of this expression that I never really knew what it meant. ‘The Precipice where the Spirit is Refreshed’ was one; another was ‘The Precipice where the Devil is Exorcised.’

The Pi-mo-yen was a live temple, that is to say it had an abbot and a priest living in it, and many pilgrims came to burn incense in front of the effigy of a Buddha in a little grotto inside the temple grounds, under a huge overhanging rock. The pilgrims used to pass through my quarters but without causing me inconvenience. The Abbot and I became friends, though we could not understand each other very well. Sometimes I used to go over my Chinese characters with him. But his pronunciation of the tones was different from that which I was used to in Peking.

The Pi-mo-yen was endowed with property of its own, and the farm produce used to be brought in and stored, so I had the impression of living in a Chinese country-house with all the interest that a country-house gives to its occupants. The place was very old and had once been a centre of religious instruction. It is mentioned as such in some Chinese books. A cousin of the Emperor Ch’ien Lung once lived there and wrote a book in which he described his travels in Turkestan and elsewhere. The title was Footsteps in the Snow of a Solitary Goose.” (Varè, ‘Laughing Diplomat’)

It was in a Buddhist temple in the Western Hills that I wrote the first chapters of this book. The temple is named Pi Mo Yen. In the eighteenth century a Manchu general, cousin to the Emperor Ch’ien-lung, stayed up there, like myself, and wrote a book. (His was a book of travel, with the quaint title “Footsteps in the Snow of a Solitary Goose.”) Close by were the Hunting Park and the tower whence the emperor used to watch his army manoeuvring on the plain. All around were signs of a past magnificence. (Varè, ‘The Last Empress’ ix, 1936)

This temple, one of the smallest and highest of those in the Western Hills, was known to the foreign community in Peking at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century as Pi Mo Yen [碧默巖]. Chinese sources, however, indicate its name to be Mi Mo Ya [秘魔崖]. Forthcoming installments will further illustrate the Western Hills, using pictures from Lin-qing’s book accompanied by excerpts from contemporary European sources.

麟慶:鴻雪因緣圖記 hóngxuě yīnyuán tújì volume 4 of 6

About the Author:

Daniele Varè (1880-1956) was an Italian diplomat who served chiefly in China, from 1908 until 1920. After he retired from the diplomatic service he devoted himself to writing, translating his own books into English, and writing some of them directly in that language. He wrote works of popular history, such as ‘The Last Empress’ (also published as ‘The Last of the Empresses’), and his novels, ‘The Maker of Heavenly Trousers’; ‘The Gate of Laughing Sparrows’; and ‘The Temple of Costly Experience’; thinly-veiled romans-a-clef, portray expatriate life in China during the end of the Qing dynasty and the beginning of the Republican period. His autobiography, ‘Laughing Diplomat’, was published in 1938. Sir Edmund Backhouse, in his memoirs, describes Varè as his ‘enemy’, doubtlessly because Varè paid him a back-handed compliment by comparing his work and himself with James Macpherson and his ‘Ossian’. – Se non è vero, è ben trovato, we may say.

Read Full Post »

Lin Qing was a Chinese government official who visited Shaolin Monastery in 1828. He subsequently published an illustrated book describing his travels. According to Lin Qing, the head monk was uncomfortable showing him martial arts because of government decrees against such practices. Lin Qing described the demonstration using a phrase from Zhuangzi, namely, “xiong jing niao shen”, which describes movements of bears and birds. This in turn refers to physical exercises done during the fourth and fifth centuries B.C.E., when the Zhuangzi was recorded.

(‘Martial arts in the modern world’, T.A. Green & J.R. Svinth, 2003, p 5.)

… in 1828 prominent Manchu official named Lin Qing (1791-1846) visited the Shaolin Temple. By then, bare-handed techniques had completely eclipsed the monastery’s ancient staff methods, and instead of an armed display, the distinguished guest was entertained by a sparring demonstration:

In the evening we returned to the Shaolin Monastery, and paid our respects at the Jinnaluo (Vajrapani) Hall. The deity’s image is most awesome. He wears thin garments, and wields a stove poker (huo gun). Tradition has it that once he displayed his divinity and warded off bandits. Today he is the monastery’s guardian spirit (qielan). Praying to him is invariably efficacious.

I proceeded to ask the monks about their hand combat method (quan fa), but they refused to utter a word about it. I made it clear that I had heard about the Shaolin Fist long ago, and I knew it had been relied upon solely for guarding monastic regulations and protecting the famous temple. Therefore they need not make pretence.

The abbot laughed and assented. He selected several sturdy monks to perform in front of the hall. Their “bear-hangings and bird stretchings” were indeed artful. After the performance the monks retreated. I sat facing Mt. Shaoshi’s three peaks, which resembled a sapphire tripod. Watching the shaded forests, misty mountains, and emerald green thickets, my body and spirit were equally at peace. I resolved to stay overnight.

Published in 1849, Lin Qing’s account of his visit was accompanied by a woodblock illustration of Shaolin monks practicing hand combat. The martial artists were shown under the gigantic shadow of their tutelary deity, Vajrapani (Kimnara), who still wielded his staff of old. The Manchu official, in ceremonial cap and robes and surrounded by his entourage, appeared in the picture as well. Apparently he was fascinated by the performance. Whereas the elderly abbot remained sitting under the hall’s eaves, Lin Qing rose from his seat to watch the martial artists up close.”

(M. Shahar, ‘The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts’, 2008, pp 126-128.)

According to Shahar, some scholars believe the renowned murals in Shaolin were painted to commemorate this visit:

Lin Qing’s woodblock illustration leads us to another, more elaborate, artwork, which depicts a similar scene: Shaolin’s White-Attired Mahâsattva Hall (Baiyi dashi dian) is decorated with an early nineteenth-century mural of fighting monks, who are demonstrating their bare-handed skills to visiting dignitaries, probably government officials. The guests, identified by their queues, are entertained by the abbot in a central pavilion, which is surrounded by the performing artists. The gorgeous fresco was executed with such attention to detail that some modern practitioners are able to identify in it the bare-handed postures they practice today. (ibid.)

The Shaolin Monastery charts, for the first time in any language, the history of the Shaolin Temple and the evolution of its world-renowned martial arts. In this meticulously researched and eminently readable study, Meir Shahar considers the economic, political, and religious factors that led Shaolin monks to disregard the Buddhist prohibition against violence and instead create fighting techniques that by the twenty-first century have spread throughout the world. He examines the monks’ relations with successive Chinese regimes, beginning with the assistance they lent to the seventh-century Emperor Li Shimin and culminating more than a millennium later with their complex relations with Qing rulers, who suspected them of rebellion. He reveals the intimate connection between monastic violence and the veneration of the violent divinities of Buddhism and analyzes the Shaolin association of martial discipline and the search for spiritual enlightenment. (from the publishers)

麟慶:鴻雪因緣圖記 hóngxuě yīnyuán tújì volume 3 of 6

Read Full Post »

Continuing from the previous instalment, H.A. Giles proceeds to describe an episode from Lin-qing’s book:

One chapter is devoted to the description of a curious rock called the Loom Rock. It is situated in the Luhsi district of the Chang-chou prefecture in Hunan, and is perfectly inaccessible to man, as it well might be, to judge from the drawing of it by a native artist. From a little distance, however, caves are discernible hollowed out in the cliff, and in these the eye can detect various articles used in housekeeping, such as a teapot, &c.; and amongst others a loom. On a ledge of smooth rock a boat may be seen, as it were hauled up out of the water. How these got there, and what is the secret of the place, nobody appears to know, but our author declares that he saw them with his own eyes. We have given the above particulars as to the whereabouts of the rock, in the hope that any European meditating a trip into Hunan may take the trouble to make some inquiries about this wonderful sight. The late Mr Margary must have passed close to it in his boat, probably without being aware of its existence – if indeed it does exist at all. (Herbert A. Giles, ‘Chinese Sketches,’ 1876, pp 162-163)


Note: The ‘Margary Affair’

The Margary Affair is the name of a crisis in Sino-British relations, which followed the murder of British official Augustus Raymond Margary in 1875. As part of efforts to explore overland trade routes between British India and China province, junior British diplomat Augustus Raymond Margary was sent from Shanghai through southwest China to Bhamo in Upper Burma, where he was supposed to met Colonel Horace Browne. It took Margary six months to make the 1800 miles long journey through the provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan and he met Brown in Bhamo in late 1874. On the journey back to Shanghai, Margary heard rumors that the return route was not safe and changed the route to Tengyue, where he and his personal staff were murdered on February 21, 1875.

According to Jonathan Spence in ‘The Search for Modern China’, Margary was part of a survey team exploring routes from Burma into Yunnan. Susan Orlean, author of ‘the Orchid Thief’, gives a different account: “The linguist and plant collector Augustus Margary survived toothache, rheumatism, pleurisy, and dysentery while sailing the Yangtze only to be murdered when he completed his mission and sailed beyond Bhamo” – in pursuit of orchids.

The incident created a diplomatic crisis and gave British authorities an excuse to put pressure on the Qing government. The crisis was only resolved in 1876 when Thomas Wade and Li Hongzhang signed the Chefoo Convention, which covered a number of items that had no direct relation to the killing of Margary the year earlier. (adapted from Wikipedia)

麟慶:鴻雪因緣圖記 hóngxuě yīnyuán tújì volume 2 of 6

下载 Download:

High-quality PDF scan of the first edition @ Waseda University (6 vols)

A DJVU scan of a Chinese facsimile reprint (6 vols) can be found on iShare

The journey of Augustus Raymond Margary, from Shanghae to Bahamo, and back to Manwyne (1876)

Read Full Post »

We have lately come across a book of travels, in six thin quarto volumes, written by no less a personage than the father of Ch’ung-hou. It is a very handsome work, being well printed and on good paper, besides being provided with numerous woodcuts of the scenes and scenery described in the text. The author, whose name was Lin-ch’ing was employed in various important posts; and while rising from the position of Prefect to that of Acting Governor-General of the two Kiang, travelled about a good deal, and was somewhat justified in committing his experiences to paper. We doubt, however, if his literary efforts are likely to secure him a fraction of the notoriety which the Tientsin Massacre has conferred upon his son. He never saw the moon shining upon the water, but away he went and wrote an ode to the celestial luminary, always introducing a few pathetic lines on the hardships of travel and the miseries of exile.

Herbert A. Giles, ‘Chinese Sketches,’ 1876, pp 162-163

This intriguing entry by the renowned sinologist, Herbert Giles, does not give the title of the wonderful work in question. The title of the unnamed book – 鴻雪因緣圖記 [hongxue yinyuan tuji] – has been variously rendered into English as: A Wild Swan’s Trail; Tracks in the Snow; Footsteps in the Snow of a Solitary Goose; Record of a Goose Life’s Traces in the Snow; Wild swan on the snow; among many others, by an author whose name – 麟慶is given as Lin Ch’ing, Lin-ching, Lin Qing or Lin K’ing.

Linqing (1791–1846), surnamed Wanggiyan [Wanyan] with given name Boyu and style name Jian-Ting, was a member of the Manchu Bordered Yellow Banner. Having passed the imperial examination in 1809, Linqing later served as the Provincial Governor of Hubei and the Governor-General of the Jiangnan watercourses. He was the author of ‘Life’s Encounters and Observations’ which is divided into three sets with each set containing two volumes. Comprising 240 pictures and 240 chapters, the content of the book involved Linqing’s personal experiences and artists such as Wang Chunquan provided pictorial illustrations. Linqing was also the author of “Ancient and Modern Drawings of the River Mouth of the Yellow Canal,” “Machinery and Implements Employed in River Engineering,” and poetry collection “compilation of literary aroma and fragrances.” [Source: National Palace Museum, Taiwan]

This series of posts aims to present such parts of this book as have already been translated into English, along with the beautiful accompanying illustrations. (Click to enlarge.) Additional historical and bibliographical information will also be provided for interested readers, along with links to further related materials and downloads.


About the Book:

A curious work entitled Hung hsüeh yin yüan t’u chi, by Lin Chin, a Manchu official, is a record of the events of his life and picturesque scenes observed by him in the course of his travels. The original edition of this work, printed in 1849, is in three parts, bound in six volumes, and contains several hundred double-page folding woodcuts very clearly printed and doubtless of some historical and geographic interest, in addition to their value as samples of Chinese book illustrations of the period. That the work is popular in China is shown by the fact that a cheaper small-sized reprint was published in Shanghai in 1884.

Report of the Librarian of Congress, 1917, pp 91-92


 Hung-hsüeh yin-yüan t’u-chi 鴻雪因緣圖記 (Illustrated notes on my life; literally: on the passing or elusive events of my fate). Lin-ch’ing describes in 240 plates the main events of his career. (…) The work is in three volumes, each with two parts. Vol. I, Lin-ch’ing’s life until his fortieth year; Vol. II, from 40 to 50; Vol. III, from 50 to his death. The first two volumes were printed between 1839 and 1841 and were first without engravings. The third volume was ready in 1846, the year of Lin-ch’ing’s death. His eldest son Ch’ung-shih put the finishing touches to the work and had it printed in Yangchow with the 240 engravings between 1847 and 1850. The first edition comprising 1,000 copies (size 24.6×16 cm) was brought to Peking, but the wooden blocks were left in Yangchow and were burned by the Taiping army in 1860. A photo-lithographed edition was published in Shanghai in 1880 with a colophon; the size was reduced to 20×13 cm. A third reprint was made between 1884 and 1896.

The Half-Acre Garden, Pan-Mou Yüan, J.L. Van Hecken & W.A. Grootaers, Monumenta Serica, Vol. 18 (1959), pp. 360-387


Portrait of Lin-qing

Chinese Books:

Chinese books are in general made of quite fragile paper, with the leaves doubled so that the folded edge is turned outward; and the paper is of course printed on only one side. The binding of each fascicule, often colored, is also not very durable. Numbers of such comparatively thin volumes, however, are finally housed within a well-made cloth case called a t’ao, which is the true outer cover; and for this one may use even the finest brocade or silk tapestry. Little clasps of jade or ivory, or else more humbly of carved bone, keep it secured, and these are often carved to harmonize with the binding.

George N. Kates: ‘The Years That Were Fat’, p 47.

Further Reading

The main sources of information on Lin-qing and his books remain the entry in Hummel’s ‘Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period, 1644-1912’, US Government Printing Office, 1943, pp 506-507, by Fang Chao-ying, and the monograph The Half-Acre Garden, Pan-Mou Yüan, by J.L. Van Hecken & W.A. Grootaers, Monumenta Serica, Vol. 18 (1959), pp. 360-387.[JSTOR Link] Numerous episodes appear, along with the corresponding illustrations, in the East Asian History journal #6. These installments are extensively annotated by and are presented in some detail by Professors John Minford and Yang Ts’ung-han.

In addition to the recent Chinese reprints of 鴻雪因緣圖記, there have been some partial translations into European languages, but these, like the original Chinese editions, are rare and sought-after items:

Selections from the Hung-Sueh sketches. Shanghai, Tien-Shih-Chai Photo-lithographic Works, 1879.

• J.R. Baylin: Visite aux temples de Pékin; traduit des carnets de voyage de Lin K’ing, Pékin, 78 pp. with 30 figs. Collection ‘Politique de Pékin’, 1921.

• F.M. Trautz: “Eine erhebende Musikaufführung am ‘fünffachen Stupa’”, Asia Major, II, Leipzig, 1925, pp 581-90.

Extraits des Carnets de Lin K’ing. Sites de Pékin et des environs vus par un lettré chinois. 120pp. with 26 figs, Peiping, Albert Nachbaur ,1929. (Reprint of Baylin, 1921)

A Wild Swan’s Trail: The Travels of a Mandarin, edited and translated by T.C. Lai, Hong Kong Book Centre, Hong Kong 1978.


Further Reading Online:

Scholars Yang Tsung-han and John Minford have also translated and annotated the work, parts of which may be found online:

East Asian History #6 (detailed introduction and translation of numerous episodes.)

Exploring the Beauty of the Sui Garden (Renditions, No. 51, Spring 1999)

Singing with the Spring (China Heritage Quarterly, No. 13, March 2008)

Observing the Rites at the Ancient Abode of Confucius (China Heritage Quarterly, No. 17, March 2009)

Mengxiang Discoursing on the I Ching(China Heritage Quarterly, No. 21, March 2010)

Paying my Compliments to West Lake (China Heritage Quarterly, No. 28, December 2011)

麟慶:鴻雪因緣圖記 hóngxuě yīnyuán tújì volume 1 of 6

下载 Download:

High-quality PDF scan of the first edition @ Waseda University (6 vols)

A DJVU scan of a Chinese facsimile reprint (6 vols) can be found using the search function on iShare

Read Full Post »

While Ku Hung-ming had nothing but strong words and contempt for modern Western civilisation; industrialisation, individualism, materialism, and democracy – or as he puts it: democrazy – he reserved some of his harshest criticism for those of his fellow compatriots who wished to introduce such concepts into China, without carefully weighing the consequences, and without regard for the millennial traditions and institutions of Imperial China.

The present queueless Republican Chinaman is a vampire, a ‘Frankenstein,’ whom foreigners themselves have created, and this Frankenstein, this awful vampire, is the Yellow Peril of the German Kaiser. And this vampire, the queueless Republican Chinaman, when he joins with the Russian Bolsheviki, will destroy not only the civilization of China, but the civilization of the whole world. Therefore, in the words of the German Kaiser I want to say here: “Look to it, ye peoples of Europe, arise and save your most sacred possessions.”

The following article, “Abolishing the Yellow Streak,” was first published in the ‘North China Standard’ of Peking, and was subsequently republished in the ‘Living Age’ in 1924. In this polemical article, Ku roundly criticizes the early Republican government and Sun Yat-sen, ‘the returned-student mob-literati,’ for wanting to turn the Chinese into ‘imitation Western men’, and, instead of reducing the discrimination of the Western Powers, merely inviting their scorn. He also blamed some of the leading figures of the reform movement; the ‘snob-literati,’ such as Kang You-wei, for having stifled true reforms with their effete attempts at ‘an imitation paper civilization,’ rather than integrating Western learning into a Chinese framework, as was proposed by Ku’s former superior, the viceroy Chang Chih-tung (Zhang Zhidong), in his famous book ‘Learn’ (published in English as ‘China’s Only Hope’).

The terribly tragic aspect of the situation in China is, while the Chinese nation are called upon to throw away their own civilization and adopt the civilization of modern Europe, there is not one single educated man in the whole Empire who has the most remote idea of what the modern European civilization really is…

In this prescient article, Ku Hung-ming shows how the end result of the ‘White Man’s Burden’ is the actualization of the ‘Yellow Peril’. His near-contemporary, the Japanese writer Okakura Kakuzō, equally talented as regards writing in the English language, also noted this in his work ‘The Awakening of Japan’, from which the relevant excerpt is forthcoming.

PDF Download

Some European writers also noted this transition, contrary to the attitudes then prevailing, though voiced their concern somewhat less harshly than Ku. The following excerpt gives an idea of this view:

It is only to-day that the Chinese mind is troubled, wavering, beginning to wonder whether the old tree whose roots plunge into so immeasurable a past, whose branches have given shelter and nourishment to such countless generations, should not be cut down to make room for the plants and weeds imported from abroad. And some of the weeds are of a particularly rank species, like the conceit of the Americanized students who seriously mistake their little wick of foreign-taught knowledge for a great light by which the destinies of a whole empire should be regulated. When one hears of a specimen of Republican Young China in creaky yellow boots, ill-fitting tweeds, and an intolerable cap impudently whistling and cracking a dirty riding-crop in the Temple of K’ung-fu-tsze, the very hall where Emperors used to worship Wisdom in the purity of early dawn, one begins to fear that the death-knell has rung even to Chinese vitality.

Irreverence towards what is left of the past is stupid enough – contempt of its real greatness criminal folly. Yet this idea of completely breaking with the past, of pulling down all it has built, even of irreplaceable beauty, of paramount holiness, has often tempted political hotheads. Never without grave injury to a nation that allowed itself to be seduced by their vapid arguments. The clean slate of their theories gives scope to the drawing up of plans of such faultless symmetry, such dazzling magnificence, straightway they are taken for reality, and the millennium they grandiloquently promise is reckoned on as an absolute certainty. But there never is a clean slate – either one on which the ancient writing is still legible in much of its mellowed wisdom, or one from which it has been rubbed out in a hideous blur of dust and tears. On this begrimed slate what would a China that has mutilated and slain her splendid past write, or rather scrawl? – for no one can write but his own language. Windy tags of republican liberty, divorced from reality even in the country of their origin; undigested and indigestible scraps of European ethics in which the theory of the missionary makes a shrill discord with the practice of the commercial and diplomatic carpet-bagger; the insidious poison of an ignorant press; all the ugliness and unhappiness of a machine-driven civilization.

(‘Pencil Speakings from Peking’, A.E. Grantham, 1918, pp 21-23.)

Read Full Post »

En Chine, la vie est libre, heureuse, totale, sans conventions, sans préjugés, sans lois… pour nous, du moins… Pas d’autres limites à la liberté que soi-même… à l’amour que la variété triomphante de son désir.

Octave Mirbeau – Le Jardin des supplices (The Torture Garden)

The recent publication of Sir Edmund ‘Bacchus’ Backhouse’s China memoirs, Décadence Mandchoue’, (Earnshaw Books, 2011) has revived an old controversy, namely the veracity of Sir Edmund’s claims, the reliability of his work as a whole, and more topically, the value of his writings, regardless of whether they are founded in fact or not. Until the publication in 1976 of Hugh Trevor-Roper’s ‘Hermit of Peking, Backhouse was best known, if he was remembered at all, as the co-author, along with the journalist J. O. P. Bland, of the popular works of history ‘China Under the Empress Dowager’ (1910) and ‘Annals & Memoirs of the Court of Peking’ (1914).

Trevor-Roper recounts how he was asked to authenticate Backhouse’s memoirs prior to publication, but found them so scandalous and untrustworthy that he decided to investigate the author further, and discovered that not only were the memoirs romanced, but also that Backhouse’s published works were largely based on forgery. This had long been suspected, but seemingly Sir Edmund had managed to gain the benefit of the doubt. ‘The Hermit of Peking’, a piece of literary detective work in the manner of A. J. A. Symon’s ‘The Quest for Corvo, not only debunks most of Backhouse’s outrageous claims, but also uncovers the series of fraudulent endeavours, literary or otherwise, that Sir Edmund embarked upon throughout his variegated career. (See here for more details.)

Trevor-Roper’s study seemed to thoroughly rubbish Backhouse’s memoirs and cast his scholarship into discredit. However it would appear that matters may have been more complex than Trevor-Roper was willing to admit. [Completing this triptych is Bernard Wasserstein’s ‘The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln’, which, again draws uncanny parallels between the careers of mystification of Trebitsch Lincoln and Backhouse – who were both in China at the same time – but without speculating further. – “Birds of that feather do not flock together!”]

Questions of literary merit or historical accuracy aside, it may not be without interest to mention one possible source of Backhouse’s memoirs – or rather, another work that may very well stem from the same ‘source’ – namely, the gossip surrounding the imperial court at the time. A previous installment provided some information on as well as illustrations from this curious French work from the turn of the twentieth century.

In 1899, a French military physician, Dr J.-J. Matignon, attaché to the French Legation in Peking, published a series of articles and lectures under the title ‘Superstitions, Crime et Misère’, essentially comprising studies of what the author terms ‘social biology’, on such varied topics as feng-shui, footbinding, eunuchs, homosexuality, and Chinese medicine, accompanied by numerous woodblock prints, photographs and illustrations… After going through a number of reprints, this work was later revised and augmented, in 1936, as ‘La Chine Hermétique’.

What will retain our attention here are the chapters on eunuchs and pederasty respectively. Considering that some of the more novel aspects of Sir Edmund’s memoirs are his salacious account of his alleged affair with the Empress Dowager, his claims of intimacy within circles of power and his depiction of homosexuality in late Imperial China, we find a number of striking parallels in Matignon’s work. These concern the secret influence of eunuchs, trysts between the Empress and Europeans, and pederasty in Chinese society.

After giving an outline of the functions, social history and medical conditions of the eunuchs, Matignon relates the following anecdote:

Les eunuques peuvent parfois être chargés de missions de confiance. Il y a quelque vingt ans, un attaché de notre Légation s’était lié avec l’eunuque favori de l’Impératrice-mère. Celle-ci, très désireuse de voir un Européen, dans son costume le plus primitif, fit faire, par cet eunuque à notre compatriote, des avances qui, malgré l’attrait de leur originale nouveauté, ne purent faire succomber sa vertu.

Of course, this remains mere hearsay, but it is possible to note a number of intriguing implications: that some foreign diplomats did, in fact, enjoy close relations with eunuchs in positions of power; and that such rumours concerning the Empress Dowager were already in circulation as early as the 1870s.

Grand Eunuch Li Lien-ying

Similarly, another intriguing literary parallel with ‘Décadence Mandchoue’, noted by Dr Hoeppli and Trevor-Roper, is ‘René Leys’, the novel by Victor Segalen, written in 1912 but published posthumously in 1922. ‘René Leys’ is, in our view, a much more profitable read, a work of fiction based as it is on a compelling combination of fact, hearsay and Segalen’s masterful storytelling. Incidentally we should remark that the empress referred to in ‘René Leys’ is Longyu, Empress Dowager Xiaoding, widow of Guangxu and niece of Cixi – not Cixi herself. (Read this blog for a detailed review and analysis of ‘René Leys’, including a comparison with Backhouse. Read ‘René Leys’ in French here.)

Empress Dowager Cixi


The second aspect that bears some relation to Backhouse’s memoirs is that of homosexuality. According to the overly optimistic view that the memoirs are based – or partly based – on reality, then it is admitted by some scholars that they provide an insight into homosexuality in the Qing Dynasty, a field in which there would be, we are told, a paucity of information. As will be evidenced from the following excerpts from Matignon’s work, we shall see that this is not quite the case:

Un de mes vieux amis, qui connaît bien les Chinois, grâce à une longue pratique des habitants de la Terre Fleurie, établissait, un soir après-dîner, comme un axiome que «tout Chinois qui se respecte pratique, a pratiqué ou pratiquera la pédérastie». Bien que fort paradoxale, au premier abord, cette boutade, il faut le reconnaître, renferme un grand fond de vérité, et le nombre des Chinois «qui se respectent» est considérable. La pédérastie est, en effet, extrêmement répandue dans l’Empire du Milieu. Toutes les classes de la société s’y livrent, et tous les âges, les jeunes comme les vieux, en sont friands…

…Il existe, partout en Chine, des maisons de prostitution où les pédérastes trouvent des petits garçons ; quelquefois les établissements sont mixtes… Ces établissements sont de notoriété publique et les Étrangers peuvent, sans aucune difficulté, y pénétrer.

La curiosité, purement sociologique, m’a conduit deux fois dans les maisons de prostitution où se trouvent des petits garçons ; de jour, d’abord, de nuit, ensuite, pensant que je serais moins dégoûté, et après chaque séance, je suis sorti profondément écœuré de ce que j’avais vu, comme avilissement et perversion. Ces établissements se trouvent à Tien-Tsin et les Européens y sont admis sans difficulté, car beaucoup, m’a-t-on affirmé, – chose que j’ai hésité à croire ! – sont des clients assidus de ces bouges, cent fois plus ignobles que les maisons les plus infectes de nos ports de mer. Pékin est également bien pourvu de ces «tang-ming-eul» (maisons publiques), mais il est difficile aux Européens d’y pénétrer.

A ‘Sian-Gon’; a transvestite male prostitute (photo: Matignon)

A second view, much more ‘relativistic’ than the first, holds that, irrespective of their veracity, the memoirs somehow have a literary value, being a prime example of exotic erotica and ‘gay writing’; however, further considerations lie beyond the scope of this brief piece.


The revised edition of ‘La Chine Hermétique’ contains a number of references to ‘China Under the Empress Dowager,’ qualified as a ‘beau livre’. Furthermore, Matignon spent ten years or so in China (1891-1901), and was in Peking at the time of the siege of the Legation quarter during the Boxer Rebellion – as was Backhouse. There is no way, of course, of finding out whether they knew each of other, but it quite likely that Backhouse would have known of Matignon’s books – and the anecdotes and rumours they reported.

To conclude, we find that Backhouse’s claims were neither new nor original, yet, on the other hand, not completely impossible. Matignon’s work shows that Westerners did frequent brothels, including homosexual ones, and did have dealings with influential eunuchs, and that there was at least one who was rumoured to have been the object of the Empress Dowager’s attentions. Whether this lends any credence to Backhouse’s assertions is another matter; one for the informed reader to judge. As to the value of the book itself, if Sir Edmund’s claims cannot be shown to reflect reality, then, are we, according to Hugh Trevor-Roper, left with a “pornographic novelette” in which “No verve in writing can redeem [its] pathological obscenity”? That is a matter for the sympathetic reader to decide…

That ardent defender of the Empress Dowager, and scourge of Western Orientalists, Ku Hung-ming, summarized an article of his criticizing Bland and Backhouse’s work in his book ‘The Spirit of the Chinese People.’ In light of Backhouse’s memoirs, it is worth quoting in full:

I have wanted to include in this volume an essay I wrote on J.B. Bland and Backhouse’s book on the famous late Empress Dowager, but unfortunately I have not been able to find a copy of that essay which was published in the ‘National Review’ in Shanghai some four years ago. In that essay, I have tried to show that, such men as J.B. Bland and Backhouse do not and cannot understand the real Chinese woman – the highest type of woman produced by the Chinese civilization viz the late Empress Dowager, because such men as J.B. Bland and Backhouse are not so simple, – have not the simplicity of mind, being too clever and having, like all modern men, a distorted intellect.

Ku Hung-ming; “The Spirit of the Chinese People”

Notes and Links:

•‘Décadence Mandchouewas published in Chinese by New Century Press as «太后與我» (‘The Empress Dowager and I’).

• The epigraph to this piece was taken from Le Jardin des supplices (The Torture Garden) by Octave Mirbeau, a French author Backhouse was more than familiar with, and whom he quotes in ‘Décadence Mandchoue’.

• Read a previous article on the works of J.-J. Matignon, including numerous photos and illustrations: ‘La Chine Hermétique: Superstitions, Crime et Misère

• Readers knowledgeable of French will find a number of different editions and formats of Matignon’s book online:

•  A scan of the first edition @ the Internet Archive.

•  A scan (OCR) of the second edition @ Gallica.

•  A text edition of the second edition @ Les classiques des sciences sociales.

Lisez ‘René Leys’ de Victor Segalen en format PDF @ Gallica.

Both of Backhouse’s main works are available online @ the Internet Archive:

•  China under the Empress Dowager (1910)

•  Annals & Memoirs of the Court of Peking (from the 16th to the 20th Century) (1914)

Read Full Post »

Higher Education

A New Translation


by Ku Hung-Ming

(Gū Hóngmíng, 辜鴻銘, 1857-1928)

When a man has a standard of excellence before him, and only then, will he have a fixed and definite purpose; with a fixed and definite purpose, and only then, will he be able to have peace and tranquillity of mind; with tranquillity of mind, and only then, will he be able to have peace and tranquillity of soul; with peace and serenity of soul, and only then, can he devote himself to deep, serious thinking and reflection; and it is only by deep, serious thinking and reflection that a man can attain true culture.

In a work entitled China and Europe: Intellectual and Artistic Contacts in the Eighteenth Century,” the author states that, in Ku Hung-ming’s writings, “Europe is urged to follow the example of Confucian philosophy and to get a clear insight into the “fundamental concepts” in order that Europe, like China of old, may construct for itself on that basis a solid conception of the world, and thereby attain to more stable political conditions.” These “fundamental concepts” are to be found in the Confucian Classics.

In addition to his books, essays and articles, Ku Hung-ming also published translations of three of the four books that constitute the Confucian canon. They are the “Discourses and Sayings of Confucius,” (the Analects), “the Universal Order or Conduct of Life,” (the Doctrine of the Mean), as well as what he termed the “Higher Education” (the Great Learning). This last text was considered lost by scholars until recently, and has been the subject of some speculation. It was, in fact, first published in 1915 by the Shanghai Mercury. However, it was also later published abroad, in a periodical, the Theosophical Quarterly Magazine in 1931 (vol xxviii, July 1930-April 1931). The editorial matter preceding the text (‘On the Screen of Time’) gives some information as to how the magazine obtained the translation from Ku Hung-ming, some time before his death in 1928, but did not indicate whether it had been published before or not.

As the editor of that magazine stated: “Ku Hung-ming was a law unto himself. He probably saw no reason why his work – good work – should not be published repeatedly, by different people all over the world.” – Neither do we.

In his introduction, Ku gives his reasons for the delay in publishing this short but key work in the Confucian canon:

The following is a new translation of one of the four books in the Confucian Bible which has been translated by Dr. Legge as the “Great Learning.” This Ta Hsüeh (大學), the “Method of Higher Education,” together with the Chung Yung (中庸), the “Universal Order or Conduct of Life,” forms what may be called the Catechism of the Confucian Teaching. When first publishing my translation of the Chung Yung some ten years ago, I said: “It was my intention to publish these two books together; but I have not been able to bring my translation of the other book into a shape to satisfy the standard at which I aim at in my translation.” Now the present translation is, in my humble opinion, fit to be presented to the public. I therefore venture to offer it to the consideration of educated men who are really and sincerely interested in the cause of education in China and in the world.

And in the introduction to his “Conduct of Life,” first published in 1906, he writes:

My object, after I have thoroughly mastered the meaning, is not only to reproduce the matter, but also the manner of the original. For, as Wordsworth says of all literature of really intrinsic value: “To be sure, it is the manner, but the matter always comes out of the manner.” But to be able to reproduce the manner – what in literature is called the style – of the great and wise men of the past, one must try to put oneself in the same state of mind as that to which they attained – a thing one finds not easy, living in this modern world of the ‘civilisation of progress.’

In the following translation then this idea of moral obligation, which forms the basis of human conduct and social order in the scheme of the Chinese civilisation, will be explicitly set forth. There is of course no “new learning” in all this, but what is better, there is true learning in it. The enunciation of it in some form or other is to be found in the best literature of every nation that has ever had a civilisation; and what is most remarkable, as I have shown in the notes I have appended to the translation of the text, the enunciation in the same form and language as it is in this book, written two thousand years ago, is to be found in the latest writings of the best and greatest thinkers of modern Europe.

This extract from The Scriptures of Mankind gives a concise introduction to the Higher Education:

The Ta Hsueh or Great Learning, better translated, thinks Ku Hung Ming, as “Higher Education,”is also to be found as Chapter 39 of the Li Chi. It was the twelfth-century philosopher, Chu Hsi, who lifted this book and the Chung Yung out of the Li Chi and, joining them with the Analects and the works of Mencius, formed the Four Books, thus giving them a greater importance than they had, tucked away in the Book of Rites. The Ta Hsueh may have been written primarily as the basis of an education for princes, but it has for centuries been studied by all who have aspired to any important place in government.

The writer and translator Lin Yutang (林語堂), in “The Wisdom of Confucius,” states that: “The original title of this essay is Tasueh, translated by James Legge as “The Great Learning,” but more accurately by Ku Hung-ming as “The Higher Education.” Furthermore, in that book, Lin used Ku’s translation of “the Conduct of Life”, which he terms “The Central Harmony.” He writes: “Ku Hung-ming’s translation of that chapter is so brilliant and at the same time so correct and illuminating that I am sorry he did not translate more Confucian texts. It makes that chapter intelligible to the modern man… Ku’s translation has merits which are sufficiently apparent to make any justification for its use here superfluous.” Moreover, the eminent scholar, Wing Tsit-chan, in a review of Lin’s work, wrote: “In using Ku Hung-ming’s translation of Chung Yung, Dr. Lin has made a very happy choice, for Ku’s version is undoubtedly the best English translation not only of the Golden Mean but of all the Chinese classics.”

We hereby present this invaluable and timeless work as a PDF file, to read online, to download or to print – but above all – to study and to apply. It was transcribed from the version that appeared in the Theosophical Quarterly Magazine. The Chinese characters present in the original were included, a small number of typos were silently corrected and the original layout has been modified slightly for clarity. If there are any errors in this transcription, please be so kind as to let us know.

Download the PDF: Higher Education

Interested readers may profitably consult Lin Yutang’s rendering of the “Higher Learning” in his Wisdom of Confucius,” which also includes copious notes, as well as excerpts from the other books in the Confucian canon. Ku Hung-ming’s translation of the Universal Order or Conduct of Life,” was first published in Shanghai in 1906, and was then reprinted in the series Wisdom of the East, though with the slightly different title “the Conduct of Life or the Universal Order of Confucius,” but without the Chinese characters and certain notes and appendices. We also encourage readers to consult other translations of the sometimes difficult but always rewarding Confucian texts, in order to gain better insight into their profound meaning.

Alternate versions of this text online:

An annotated edition from Indiana University

Read the Chinese version online, with instant character references at Zhongwen.com.

Read the English translation of James Legge; The Great Learning, and the French translation of Pauthier; le Ta Hio ou La Grande Étude @ Wengu: Chinese Classics & Translation

Another version from Lapis Lazuli Texts

Read Full Post »

In 1899, a French military physician, Dr J.-J. Matignon, attaché to the French Legation in Peking, published a series of articles and lectures under the title ‘Superstition, Crime et Misère en Chine’, essentially comprising studies of what the author terms ‘social biology’, on such varied topics as feng-shui, footbinding, eunuchs, homosexuality, and Chinese medicine, accompanied by numerous woodblock prints, photographs and illustrations. The general tone and approach belong very much to the school of thinking, popular at that time, known as the study of national characteristics. After going through a number of reprints, this work was later revised and augmented, in 1936, as ‘La Chine Hermétique’, though amputated of a couple of chapters, either deemed too risqué or simply out-of-date, as well as about half of the illustrations – but with a few more photographs not present in the first edition included.

First of all, however, it should be noted that the work is far from being a sensationalist account of Chinese superstition, a genre much in vogue at the turn of the last century (for example, Arthur Smith’s Chinese Characteristics). Most of the articles had previously been published in scholarly journals of medecine and anthropology, and the first edition was part of a series on criminology. This specialized audience, and the lack of such previous studies, the author writes, explains the nature and the variety of the subjects dealt with.

Ce n’est ni un livre d’histoire, ni un récit de voyages, ni des collections d’anecdotes que j’apporte, mais une documentation sur la biologie sociale des Chinois. (from the preface)

One curious chapter, entitled ‘L’auto-crémation des prêtres bouddhistes’ (‘The Self-Immolation of Buddhist Priests’) examines in depth the ascetic practices of Buddhist monks, including the phenomena of self-immolation and self-combustion. This section, essentially based on an earlier paper by Dr. D.J. MacGowan; ‘Self-Immolation by Fire in China’ (1888), looks at some of the historical and doctrinal reasons for such practices, along with reporting a number of anecdotes and legends. A recent academic work; ‘Burning for the Buddha: Self-Immolation in Chinese Buddhism’ by J.A. Benn extensively deals with the subject.

The illustrations found throughout the book are quite interesting for this kind of work. There are numerous photographs of buildings and monuments, as well as of people; beggars and eunuchs, for the most part, especially in the revised edition. One often-reproduced picture is that of a young eunuch, with a striking look on his face. But perhaps more interesting are the woodcuts and prints, both in colour as well as black and white. These come from a wide variety of sources; illustrated novels, official announcements, classic works, religious literature, folk art and auspicious inscriptions, as well as advertisements.

We present a representative selection of these pictures below, with brief captions taken from the book itself. (Click to enlarge)

The Golden Lily – Footbinding

A print from the 24 Examples of Filial Duty

The King of the Beggars

The Art of Pulse-Reading

A Buddhist Monk undergoing austerities

A Young Eunuch

Lao-tzu on his ox

Taoist Medicinal Talismans

The Spirit of Suicide

Infanticide: A woman who drowned her daughters gives birth to a snake with a human head.

Infanticide: Those who oppose drowning touch the hearts of the gods.

A Turtle inscribed with the words ‘Son of a Turtle’, a sign equivalent to ‘No Littering’.

Readers knowledgeable of French will find a number of different editions and formats of Matignon’s book online. All 3 contain illustrations, though with varying degrees of quality. Medical works aside, Dr Matignon also authored a number of other books on the Far East; ‘L’Orient Lointain’ (1901), and ‘Dix Ans au Pays du Dragon’ (1910), among others.

 A scan of the first edition @ the Internet Archive.

A scan (OCR) of the second edition @ Gallica.

A text edition of the second edition @ Les classiques des sciences sociales.

Chinese Characteristics by Arthur Smith @ the Internet Archive

Read the second part of this study; ‘The Hermit of Peking’ – ‘La Chine Hermétique’.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 56 other followers

%d bloggers like this: