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October 27th, 2010 | By Annie Lee | Life Style
My boyfriend has an old encyclopedia consisting of 22 volumes. This is a Russian adaptation of the famous Meyer encyclopedia printed from 1900 to 1910.
I want to share an excerpt from the encyclopedia’s article “China”. Although the whole article itself can be characterized as objective – it seems that 100 years ago the term “politically correct” hasn’t existed yet. Thus its authors didn’t shy away from using the language which would hardly find its way into today’s academic literature.
This is a good opportunity to see how foreigners viewed Chinese people 100 years ago and how much has changed since then.
China, almost without any external influence, has made many great discoveries creating a vast literature in various fields of knowledge. Success achieved by China in agriculture and crafts is truly amazing. Until the latest time the state institutions of China were the most advanced among Asian countries.
But its isolation and neighborhood of barbarians who acknowledged the undisputed superiority of China has produced in this nation self-adoration and contempt to anything foreign, destroyed self-criticism, stopped the progress and became lately the source of many disasters for the country and its people.
Judgment and preferences of Chinese are marked with strong realism. In philosophy he [Chinese] is interested in practical values, rules of behavior, and not in researching the meaning and nature of things. Poetry is also dominated by realism, his fantasy only creates exaggerated images of the real world. Art – being the real world’s reflection – reveals the developed skill of observation of [Chinese] artist and perfect technique; fantastic creations, however, are usually pretentious, lack sense of appropriateness, are weak in regards of general idea and together with that have a scrupulous depiction of little details.
Chinese is a good merchant, economical owner, exemplary farmer but also a strict adept of routine. He is mistrustful, reserved, although very sociable, likes shows and street processions. In spite of egotism, he has a developed sense of solidarity.
Most of trade companies are managed not by individuals but by groups of entrepreneurs.
Plots and secret societies flourish in China and are rarely discovered.
Chinese rarely forgive and forget offence. Like all nations afflicted with chauvinism, Chinese look upon foreigners thinking of them as lower than themselves.
In family father is head and god, the owner of life and death of his family members; but examples of cruelty or abuse of parental power are not that often. Chinese are very loving to their children; special tenderness is spared for sons.
The common traits for all Chinese are their sincere, instinctive attachment to motherland and respect for labor which almost transforms into the cult of labor. For Chinese there is no dirty work. Every craftsman aspires to be an artist in his profession. This respect to any worker results in disgust toward the military art. Chinese don’t distinguish between soldier and bandit. “X thousand of young villains have been recruited and sent to war” – often write Chinese chroniclers describing some military campaign. As the Chinese proverb says – “Good iron is not used for nails, good people – for soldiers”.
Below are some additional excerpts.
On Imperial Examination and its influence on contemporary education:
[Exams] require the knowledge of not only the classic books but also all of commentaries. Student must know the source of some quotation and develop it according to the rules of rhetoric; compose a poem using a given metrical foot with obligatory usage of certain words in specific places.
Nuances are purely technical but dealing with them is so difficult that some apply for exams five and six times and until the old age can’t overcome all scholastic and rhetoric difficulties purposively created by examiners.
General scientific achievements of even brightest Chinese scientists are very scarce. In modern times [reminder – 100 years ago] under the pressure of circumstances curriculum begins to include studying of some applied disciplines and young people are sent abroad for enrichment of their education.
Spirit of innovation, once so notable in China, lately has weakened and in some fields Chinese have been surpassed by their students – Koreans and Japanese.
On Chinese literature:
Chinese are conservative; this is expressed in their literature as well. Classics are eagerly read, re-printed and commented; studying them is the purpose and method of higher education. All new and original is hardly accepted, met with mistrust or self-satisfied indifference. Overcoming it requires either outstanding achievements or luck.
China has never come through real spiritual revolutions; however, it has never experienced any kind of spiritual restraints, demolition of which would require reformatory efforts.
The press is free, religious tolerance is widespread.
Crystal Tao is the author of LoveLoveChina, blog about Chinese girls
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