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gives about eight thousand, as supplying all ordinary needs, and even enabling one to read much of the literature. The style of writing the character has varied greatly at different epochs, and several forms of it, as employed for different purposes, are even now in use.
In the character of the language, as thus described, we find two of the distinguishing features which belong to everything that is Chinese; in the first place, an exceeding simplicity, amounting even to poverty, of means, material, first principles, combined with an astonishing ingenuity and variety in their development and application; and in the second place, a not less remarkable stability. The Chinese is almost altogether exempt from the working of those alterative processes which are so active in other languages ; its stiff monosyllables admit neither composition por mutilation; they are exposed only to the slow modifying effects of euphonic laws; hence it has undergone less alteration, during the four thousand years of its traceable history, than almost any other living language in four
The religion of the ancient Chinese was of the same simplicity as their language, and it, too, seems to be preserved to us from the earliest period, unchanged, as to all its essential features, in that body of rites and observances which is wont to be called the state religion, together with one important and prominent popular cultus, the homage paid in each family to the ancestors. Like so many other of the primitive religions of the world, it was a worship of the powers of nature. In virtue of its character, it is fairly entitled to be called a religion. It was no mere superstition, no expression of a timorous dread of the powers of evil, seeking refuge in a cringing and deprecatory homage rendered to them; it was the outpouring of a genuine religious feeling, the offering in admiring awe, and gratitude, and trust, to the supposed rulers of the universe, of a worship which exalted and benefited the worshiper. It was, indeed, to a remarkable degree, free from the features which disfigure so many of the ancient religions; it was free from idolatry, from all cruel and bloody rites, from all taint of vicious and lustful indulgence; its ceremonies were of a
purity and simplicity almost unexampled. Yet even these its virtues were in part the result of the unideal nature of the Chinese, and of the feebleness and lack of vital energy of religious sentiment which has always distinguished them. The native Chinese religion can hardly be said to have had a history; it remained forever stationary at a stage which in other religions has been but the first of a long course of development. The chief objects of its adoration were heaven and earth, and the sun and moon. Now these natural objects have been the germs of the principal divinities of many another ancient religion; but almost everywhere their original identity has been lost in the personal deities which have grown out of them, hidden by the mythology of which these have been made the subject. But the Chinese religion never produced any mythol. ogy; it can hardly be said to have had any personal gods ; the nation had a devout sense of an overruling power, or powers, under the supreme government and direction of which the affairs of the world went on, and devoutly and decorously they paid it their homage; but this was all. The weakness of their sense of personal relation to the divinity, and individual duty growing out of that relation, the comparative insignificance of the element of religion in the general sum of the affairs of life, is farther evidenced by the fact that neither order nor class of priesthood ever grew up among them, charged with the ministry of divine things, and that the offering of worship became an affair of state, the performance of the religious rites of the nation the business of the civil authorities. The object of highest worship, heaven, might be addressed only by the Emperor himself; it was high treason for any one less exalted to offer solemn sacrifice to the Supreme Ruler; and each successive order of officials below him had likewise, in virtue of its official position, religious services to perform, at stated seasons, to the divinities of lower rank.
One class of religious rites, however, remained in the hands of the people at large. It is well known to all who have made any study of early religions, how often the almost universal primitive belief in immortality takes such a form as leads to a kind of worship of deceased ancestors. Their departed spirits are supposed to have entered upon a new life, which in many respects is a counterpart of the old one; they still own the ties and feel the wants of their earthly existence; they maintain intercourse with their living descendants, and are able to confer blessings upon them, while they are also accessible to their pious attentions, and even in a measure dependent upon them for support in the world of shadows. Such was the belief also of the earliest Hindus, a race the most widely removed from the Chinese in place, origin, and character; and the pious Brahmin still holds monthly the ancestral feast, at which the fathers are invited to assemble and partake of the food set forth for them, although it is with him only a dead ceremony, inherited from the remote past, while his own present belief has assumed a form with which such rites are wholly inconsistent. But this ancestral worship has nowhere else attained to such prominent importance as a part of the national religion, as in China; it even constituted, as already stated, and still constitutes, almost the only religious observance of the common people; and one which no decay of belief, no importation of foreign creeds, no upspringing of superstitious rites, has been able to displace. Every family has its ancestral altar; with the rich, this has a separate building allotted to it; with the poorer, it occupies a room, a closet, a corner, a shelf. There the commemorative tablets are set up, and there, at appointed times, are presented offerings of meats, fruits, flowers, apparel, money. But this part of the Chinese religion has also its public and official side. Al. though, in general, the ancestors of each family are the care of their own particular descendants, and not of strangers, yet an exception is made in the case of those who have been benefactors of the whole nation ; distinguished philosophers and statesmen, patriots who have given their lives for their country, are in a manner canonized by having their memorial tablets removed from the privity of the family mansion, set up in public temples, and honored with official worship. Of this character, and of a prominence befitting his high rank and desert, is the homage paid to the sage Confucius.
The form of the Chinese polity was patriarchal; the state was an expansion of the family. The latter was both its model and its composing element; the individuals of whom the state was made up were heads of families.
Neither age, nor property, nor wisdom, conferred political rights. So long as the father lived, the son was a minor; he was incapable even of acquiring real estate, or execnting a contract, without the consent of the father, expressed in due form. Heads of families, associated together according to neighborhood, formed the primary political assemblies; and to them, or to their combination into secondary organizations, or to the officers freely elected by them, were committed many and important functions of administration. This, however, was not in virtue of an established constitution, or compact between the nation and its rulers; neither the theory nor the practice of the Chinese recognized any such. They had devised no fine theories respecting the constitution of a state, respecting the rights of the individual, and the checks and balances necessary to maintain them; they knew of no national order different from that of the family. As the family is a natural community, having for its head the father, not by any election or convention, but by the very nature of things, so the nation is a natural community, of which the Emperor is the head; as reverence and implicit submission are due from children to a parent, so also the same are to be paid, with no abatement, by all the members of the national family, to its father and head. The Emperor is, as he is styled, the Son of Heaven. He derives his authority directly from the Supreme Ruler. As he owes his place to no election, he is limited by no human statute. He is the source of all honor and all authority throughout his empire; his word is law. By technical definition, then, the Chinese government is a despotism ; and yet it would be unjust to stiginatize it by that term, as ordinarily understood by us. For, in the first place, as regards the theory of the state, the Chinese by no means held that it existed in the Emperor, and was to be administered for his benefit, the people being his vassals and slaves. They believed, no less than we, that governments exist for the benefit of the governed. Their system demanded of the Emperor the strictest devotion
to the welfare and happiness of his subjects. He was not exempted from the binding force of any of the principles of morality and justice which were made obligatory upon the private individual. Heaven had made him, it is true, the father of his people, giving him unlimited dominion over them; yet for their good, that he might be their father indeed, and might make his children happy and prosperous. It is easy for us to say that this moral obligation is but a weak restraint, and that despotic power will and must be abused. The Chinese have learned that, too, and by sore experience. And yet this experience has never taught them that their system was radically defective, and required amendment. Over and over again has China passed through frightful convulsions, in its endeavors to rid itself of a corrupt and tyrannous dynasty, but never, so far as we are aware, has it made the attempt, by limitation of authority, by the imposition of checks and the exaction of guarantees, to guard against farther tyranny. Content with the ancient constitution, not even imagining the possibility of a different one, the nation has sought only to place its administration in better hands. But there have not been wanting, in the Chinese system, elements of which the practical working has operated powerfully to check tyranny, and to soften the hard features of absolute power. In the first place, the absence of all disposition, on the part of either the governors or the governed, to find fault with the established order of things, introduce innovations, encroach upon one another's prerogatives, has tended at least to promote tranquillity. Again, no people in the world have ever been more orderly and methodical, more attached to ancient institutions, more unpliable to new ways, than the Chinese. The laws and methods of administration of their great empire became very early an immense and elaborate system, which grew more stable and rigid with every century of its subsistence, and which no Emperor, no dynasty even, was able essentially to alter. The will of the Emperor was law, it is true; but it was greatly hampered in its exercise by the stiff and unwieldy apparatus of councils, and boards, and courts, through which it was compelled to act. Nor was it possible