ONE of the most distinctive features of Chinese society is that which is epitomised in the word "responsibility," a word which carries with it a significance and embraces a wealth of meaning to which Western lands are total strangers. In those lands, as we well know, the individual is the unit and the nation is a large collection of individuals. In China the unit of social life is found in the family, the village, or the clan, and these are often convertible terms. Thousands of Chinese villages comprise exclusively persons having the same surname and the same ancestors. The inhabitants have lived in the same spot ever since they began to live at all, and trace an unbroken descent for many hundred years back to the last great political upheaval, such as the overthrow of the Ming Dynasty or its establishment. In such a village there can be no relationship laterally more distant than "cousin," and every male member of an older generation is either a father, an uncle, or some kind of a "grandfather." Sometimes eleven generations are represented in the same small hamlet. This does not imply, as might be supposed, extreme old age on the part of any representative of the older generations. The Chinese marry young, marry repeatedly, often late in life, and constantly adopt children. The result is such a tangle among relatives that without special inquiry and minute attention to the particular characters which are employed in writing the names of all who belong to the same "generation," it is impossible to determine who constitute "the rising generation," and who form the generation which rose long ago. An old man nearly seventy years of age affirms that a young man of thirty is his "grandfather." All the numerous "cousins" of the same generation are termed "brothers," and if the perplexed foreigner insists upon accuracy, and inquires whether they are "own brothers," he will not infrequently be enlightened with the reply that they are "own brother-cousins." The writer once proposed a question of this sort, and after some little hesitation the person addressed replied, "Why, yes, you might call them own brothers."

These items are but particulars under the general head of the social solidarity of the Chinese. It is this solidarity which forms the substratum upon which rests Chinese responsibility. The father is responsible for his son, not merely until the latter attains to "years of discretion," but as long as life lasts, and the son is responsible for his father's debts. The elder brother has a definite responsibility for the younger brother, and the "head of the family" — usually the oldest representative of the oldest generation — has his responsibility for the whole family or clan. What these responsibilities actually are will depend, however, upon circumstances.

Customs vary widely, and the "personal equation" is a most important factor, of which mere theory takes no account. Thus in a large and influential family, embracing many literary men, some of whom are local magnates and perhaps graduates, the "head of the clan" may be an addle-headed old man who can neither read nor write, and who has never in his life been ten miles from home.

The influence of an elder brother over a younger, or indeed of any older member over a younger member of the same family, is of the most direct and positive sort, and is entirely irreconcilable with what we mean by personal liberty. The younger brother is employed as a servant and would like to give up his place, but his elder brother will not let him do so. The younger brother wishes to buy a winter garment, but his elder brother thinks the cost is too great, and will not allow him to incur the expense. Even while these remarks are committed to paper, a case is reported in which a Chinese has a number of rare old coins, which a foreigner desires to purchase. Lest the owner should refuse to sell — as is the Chinese way when one happens to have what another wants — the middleman who made the discovery proposes to the foreigner that he should send to the uncle of the owner of the coins a present of foreign candy and other trifles, by which oblique means such pressure will be brought to bear upon the owner of the coins that he will be obliged to give them up!

There is a burlesque tale which relates that a traveller in a Western land once came upon a very old man with a long white beard, who was crying bitterly. Struck with the singularity of this spectacle, the stranger halted and asked the old man what he was crying about, and was surprised to be told that it was because his father had just whipped him! "Where is your father?" "Over there," was the reply. Riding in the direction named, the traveller found a much older man, with a beard much longer and whiter than the other. "Is that your son?" asked the traveller. "Yes, it is." "Did you whip him?" "Yes, I did." "Why?" "Because he was saucy to his grandfather, and if he does it again I will whip him some more!" Translated into the conditions of Chinese life the burlesque disappears.

Next in order to the responsibility of members of a family for one another comes the mutual responsibility of neighbours for neighbours. Whether these "neighbours" are or are not related makes no difference in their responsibility, which depends solely upon proximity. This responsibility is based upon the theory that virtue and vice are contagious. Good neighbours will make good neighbours, and bad neighbours will make others like them. The mother of Mencius removed three times in order to reach a desirable neighbourhood. To an Occidental, fresh from the republican ideas which dominate the Anglo-Saxons, it seems a matter of little or no consequence who his neighbours are, and if he be a resident of a city he may occupy a dwelling for a year in ignorance even of the name of the family next door. But in China it is otherwise. If a crime takes place the neighbours are held guilty of something analogous to what English law calls "misprision of treason," in that when they knew of a criminal intention they did not report it. It is vain to reply "I did not know." You are a "neighbour," and therefore you must have known.

The proceedings which are taken when the crime of killing a parent has been committed, furnish a striking illustration of the Chinese theory of responsibility. As has been already mentioned in speaking of filial piety, in such instances the criminal is often alleged to be insane, as indeed one must be who voluntarily subjects himself to death by the slicing process when he might escape it by suicide. In a memorial published in the Peking Gazette a few years since, the Governor of one of the central provinces reported in regard to a case of parricide that he had had the houses of all the neighbours pulled down, on the ground of their gross dereliction of duty in not exerting a good moral and reformatory influence over the criminal! Such a proceeding would probably strike an average Chinese as eminently reasonable. In some instances when this crime has occurred in a district, in addition to all the punishments of persons, the city wall itself is pulled down in parts, or modified in shape, a round comer substituted for a square one, or a gate removed to a new situation, or even closed up altogether. If the crime should be repeated several times in the same district, it is said that the whole city would be razed to the ground, and a new one founded elsewhere, but of this we have met with no certain examples.

Next above the neighbours comes the village constable or bailiff, whose functions are of a most miscellaneous nature, sometimes confined to a single village, and sometimes extending to many. In either case he is the medium of communication between the local magistrate and the people, and is always liable to get into trouble from any one of innumerable causes, and may be beaten to a jelly by a captious official for not reporting what he could not possibly have known.

At a vast elevation above the village constables stand the District Magistrates, who, so far as the people are concerned, are by far the most important officers in China. As regards the people below them they are tigers. As regards the officials above them they are mice. A single local magistrate combines functions which ought to be distributed among at least six different officers. A man who is at once the civil and the criminal judge, the sheriff, the coroner, the treasurer, and the tax-commissioner for a large and populous district, cannot attend to the details of all his work. This vicious agglomeration of duties in one office renders it both a physical and a moral impossibility that these duties should be properly discharged. Many magistrates have no interest whatever in the business which they despatch, except to extract from it all that it can be made to yield, and, from the nature of their miscellaneous and incongruous duties, they are largely dependent upon their secretaries and other subordinates. Having so much to do, even with the best intentions these officials cannot fail to make numerous mistakes, and many things must go wrong, for which they will be held responsible. The District Magistrate, like all Chinese officials, is supposed to have an exhaustive acquaintance with everything within his jurisdiction which is an object of knowledge, and an unlimited capacity to prevent what ought to be prevented. To facihtate this knowledge and that of the local constables, each city and village is divided into compound atoms composed of ten families each. At every door hangs a placard or tablet upon which is inscribed the name of the head of the family, and the number of individuals which it comprises. This system of registration, analogous to the old Saxon tithings and hundreds, makes it easy to fix local responsibility. The moment a suspicious stranger appears in the district comprised in a tithing, he is promptly reported to the head of the tithing by whoever sees him first. By the head of the tithing he is immediately reported to the local constable, and by the local constable to the District Magistrate, who at once takes steps "rigorously to seize and severely to punish." By the same simple process all local crimes, not due to "suspicious-looking strangers" but to permanent residents, are instantly detected before they have hatched into overt acts, and thus the pure morals of the people are preserved from age to age.

It is evident that such regulations as these can be efficient only in a state of society where fixity of residence is the rule. It is also evident that even in China, where the most extreme form of permanence of abode is found, the system of tithing is to a large extent a mere legal fiction. Sometimes a city, where no one remembers to have seen them before, suddenly blossoms out with ten-family tablets on every door-post, which indicates the arrival of a District Magistrate who intends to enforce the regulations. In some places these tablets are observable in the winter season only, for this is the time when bad characters are most numerous and most dangerous. But so far as our knowledge extends, the system as such is little more than a theoretical reminiscence, and even when observed it is probably merely a form. Practically, it is not generally observed, and in some provinces at least one may travel for a thousand miles, and for months together, and not find ten-family tablets posted in more than one per cent, of the cities and villages along the route.

It may be mentioned in passing that the Chinese tithing system is intimately connected with the so-called census. If each doorway exhibits an accurate list, constantly corrected, of the number of persons in each family; if each local constable has accurate copies of the lists of all the tithings within his territory; if each District Magistrate has at his disposal accurate summaries of all these items — it is as easy to secure a complete and accurate census of the Empire as to do a long sum in addition, for the whole is equal to the aggregate of all its parts. But these are large ifs, and, as a matter of fact, none of the conditions are realised. The tablets are nonexistent, and when the local magistrate is occasionally called upon for the totals which should represent them, neither he nor the numerous constables upon whom he is entirely dependent has the least interest in securing accuracy, which indeed from the nature of the case is difficult. There is no "squeeze" to be got from a census, and for this reason alone a really accurate Chinese census is a mere figment of the imagination. Even in the most enlightened Western lands the notion that a census means taxation appears to be ineradicable, but in China the suspicion which it excites is so strong, that for this reason alone, unless the tithing system were carried out with uniform faithfulness in all places and at all times, an accurate enumeration would be impossible.

For a local magistrate to be guilty of all kinds of misdemeanours for which he gets into no trouble whatever, or getting into it, escapes scot-free by means of influential friends or by a judicious expenditure of silver, and yet after all to lose his post on account of something that happened within his jurisdiction but which he could not have prevented, is a constant occurrence.

How the system of responsibility operates in the domain of all the successive grades of officials, it is unnecessary to illustrate in detail. Multiplied examples are found in almost every copy of the translations from the Peking Gazette. A case was mentioned a few years ago, where a soldier on guard had stolen some thirty boxes of bullets placed in his care, and sold them to a tinner, who supposed them to be condemned and surplus stores. The soldier was beaten one hundred blows, and banished to the frontiers of the Empire in penal servitude. A petty officer whose duty it was to inspect the stores was condemned to eighty blows and dismissed from the service, though allowed to commute his punishment for a money payment. The purchasers of the material were considered innocent of any blame, but on general principles were beaten forty blows of the light bamboo. The lieutenant in charge was cashiered in order to be put upon trial for his "connivance" in the theft, but he judiciously disappeared. The Board to which the memorial was addressed was requested to determine the penalty to be inflicted upon the general in command, for his share in the matter. Thus each individual is a link in the chain which is followed up to the very end, and no link can escape by pleading ignorance or inability to prevent the crime.

Still more characteristic examples of Chinese responsibility are furnished by the memorials annually appearing in the Peking Gazette, reporting the outbreak of some irrepressible river. In the case of a flood in the Yung-ting River in the province of Chihli during the summer of 1888, the waters came down from the mountains with the velocity of a millrace. The officials seem to have been promptly on hand, and to have risked their lives in struggling to do what was utterly beyond the powers of man. They were helpless as ants under a rain-spout during a summer torrent. But this did not prevent Li Hung-chang from requesting that they should be immediately stripped of their buttons, or deprived of their rank without being removed from their posts (a favourite mode of expressing Imperial dissatisfaction), and the Governor-General consistently concludes his memorial with the usual request that his own name should be sent to the Board of Punishments for the determination of a penalty to be inflicted upon him for his complicity in the affair. Similar floods have occurred several times since, and upon each occasion a similar memorial has been presented. The Emperor always instructs the proper Board to "take note." In like manner the failure of the embankments built a few years ago to bring back the Yellow River into its old channel was the signal for the degradation and banishment of a great number of officers, from the Governor of the province of Honan downwards.

The theory of responsibility is carried upwards with unflinching consistency to the Son of Heaven himself. It is no unusual thing for the Emperor in published edicts to confess to Heaven his shortcomings, taking upon himself the blame of floods, famines, and revolutionary outbreaks, for which he begs Heaven's forgiveness. His responsibility to Heaven is as real as that of his officers to himself. If the Emperor loses his throne, it is because he has already lost "Heaven's decree," which is presumptively transferred to whoever can hold the Empire.

That aspect of the Chinese doctrine of responsibility which is the most repellent to Western standards of thought, is found in the Oriental practice of extinguishing an entire family for the crime of one of its members. Many instances of this sort were reported in connection with the T'aip'ing rebellion, and more recently the family of the chieftain Yakub Beg, who led the Mohammedan rebellion in Turkestan, furnished another. These atrocities are not, however, limited to cases of overt rebellion. In the year 1873 "a Chinese was accused and convicted of having broken open the grave of a relative of the Imperial family, in order to rob the coffin of certain gold, silver, and jade ornaments which had been buried in it. The entire family of the criminal, consisting of four generations, from a man more than ninety years of age to a female infant only a few months old, was exterminated. Thus eleven persons suffered death for the offence of one. And there was no evidence to show that any of them were parties to, or were even aware of, his crime.''

The Chinese theory and practice of responsibility has been often cited as one of the causes of the perpetuity of Chinese institutions. It forges around every member of Chinese society iron fetters from which it is impossible that he should break loose. It constantly violates every principle of justice by punishing all grades of officers, as well as private individuals, for occurrences in which they had no part, and of which, as in the example just cited, they were not improbably utterly ignorant. It is the direct cause of deliberate and systematic falsification in all ranks of officials, from the very lowest to the very highest. If an officer is responsible for the existence of crimes which he does not find it easy to control, or of which he is ignorant till it is too late to prevent them, he will inevitably conceal the facts so as to screen himself. This is what constantly happens in all departments of the government, to the complete subversion of justice, for it is not in human nature to give truthful reports of events when, in consequence of such reports, the person who makes them may be severely and unjustly punished. The abuse of this principle alone would suffice to account for a large part of the maladministration of justice in China, to which our attention is so often called.

An additional evil connected with the official system has been noticed by every writer on China. It is the absence of independent salaries for the officers, whose allowances are so absurdly small that often they would not pay the expenses of the yamen for a day. Besides this, the officials are subject to so many forfeitures that it is said that they rarely draw their nominal allowances at all, as it would be necessary to pay them all back again in fines. The absolute necessity for levying squeezes and taking bribes arises from the fact that there is no other way by which a magistrate can exist.

Still, while we are impressed with flagrant violations of justice which the Chinese theory of responsibility involves, it is impossible to be blind to its excellences. In Western lands, where every one is supposed to be innocent until he is proved to be guilty, it is exceedingly difficult to fix responsibility upon any particular person. A bridge breaks down with a heavy train of cars loaded with passengers, and an investigation fails to find any one in fault. A lofty building falls and crushes scores of people, and while the architect is criticised, he shows that he did the best he could with the means at his disposal, and no one ever hears of his being punished. If an ironclad capsize, or a military campaign is ruined because the proper preparations were not made, or not made in time, eloquent speeches set forth the defects of the system which renders such events possible, but no one is punished. The Chinese are far behind us in their conceptions of public justice, but might we not wisely learn again from them the ancient lesson that every one should be held rigidly responsible for his own acts, in order to the security of the body politic?

The relation of the Chinese theory of responsibility to foreigners in China is one of great importance. The "Boy," into whose hands everything is committed, and who must produce every spoon, fork, or curio; the steward, who takes general charge of your affairs, suffering no one but himself to cheat you; the compradore, who wields vast powers but who is individually responsible for every piece of property and for every one of hundreds of coolies — these types of character we still have with us, and shall always have, as long as we have anything to do with the Chinese. Innkeepers in China are not noted for flagrant virtues of any kind, especially for consideration towards foreign travellers. Yet we have known of a Chinese innkeeper who ran half a mile after a foreigner, bringing an empty sardine-tin which he supposed to be a forgotten valuable. He knew that he was responsible, unlike American hotel-keepers, who coolly notify their guests that "the proprietor is not responsible for boots left in the hall to be blacked."

Responsibility for the character, behaviour, and debts of those whom they recommend or introduce, is a social obligation of recognised force, and one which it behoves foreigners dealing with Chinese to emphasise. The fact that a headman, whatever his position, is "responsible" for any and every act of omission or commission of all his subordinates, exerts over the whole series of links in the chain a peculiar influence, which has been instinctively appreciated by foreigners in all the long history of their dealings with Chinese. There is a tradition of a head compradore in a bank, who in the "more former days" was called to account because the "Boy" had allowed a mosquito to insinuate itself within the mosquito-net of the bank manager! If the Chinese perceive that a foreigner is ignorant of the responsibility of his employés, or disregards it, it will not take them long to act upon this discovery in extremely disagreeable ways.

One of the many admirable qualities of the Chinese is their innate respect for law. Whether this element in their character is the effect of their institutions, or the cause of them, we do not know. But what we do know is that the Chinese are by nature and by education a law-abiding people. Reference has been already made to this trait in speaking of the national virtue of patience, but it deserves special notice in connection with Chinese theories of mutual responsibility. In China every man, woman, and child is directly responsible to some one else, and of this important fact no one for a moment loses sight. Though one should "go far and fly high" he cannot escape, and this he well knows. Even if he should himself escape, his family cannot escape. The certainty of this does not indeed make a bad man good, but it frequently prevents him from becoming tenfold worse.

It is an illustration of Chinese respect for law, and all that appertains thereto, that it often happens that men of literary rank are so terrified in the presence of a District Magistrate that they dare not open their mouths unless compelled to do so, although the case may not in any way concern themselves. We have indeed known of one instance where a man of this class appeared to be thrown into a condition resembling epilepsy by sheer fright in giving evidence. He was taken home in a fit, and soon after died.

Contrast the Chinese inherent respect for law with the spirit often manifested where republican institutions flourish most, and manifested, it must be said, by those whose antecedents would least lead us to expect it. College laws, municipal ordinances, state and national enactments, are quietly defied, as if the assertion of personal liberty were one of the greatest needs, instead of one of the principal dangers of the time. It is rightly regarded as one of the most serious indictments against the transaction of Chinese public business of all kinds, that every one not only connives at acts of dishonesty which it is his duty to prevent and to expose, but that such is the constitution of public and private society that every one must connive at such acts. But is it less disgraceful that in Christian countries men of education and refinement, as well as the uncultivated, quietly ignore or deliberately disregard the laws of the land as if by common consent, and as if it were now a well-ascertained fact that a law is more honoured in the breach than in the observance? How shall we explain or defend the existence upon our statute-books of multitudinous laws which are neither repealed nor enforced — laws which by their anomalous non-existent existence tend to bring all legislation into a common contempt? By what means shall we explain the alarming increase of crime in many Western lands during the last thirty years? How shall we explain that conspicuous indifference to the sacredness of human life which is unquestionably a characteristic of some Western lands? It is vain to dogmatise in regard to matters which from the nature of the case are beyond the reach of statistics. Still we must confess to a decided conviction that human life is safer in a Chinese city than in an American city — safer in Peking than in New York. We believe it to be safer for a foreigner to traverse the interior of China than for a Chinese to traverse the interior of the United States. It must be remembered that the Chinese as a whole are quite as ignorant as any body of immigrants in the United States, and not less prejudiced. They are, as we constantly see, ideal material for mobs. The wonder is not that such outbreaks take place, but that they have not occurred more frequently, and have not been more fatal to the lives of foreigners.

It is a Chinese tenet that Heaven is influenced by the acts and by the spirit of human beings. Upon this principle depends the efficacy of the self-mutilation on behalf of parents, to which reference was made in speaking of filial piety. That this is a correct theory we are not prepared to maintain, yet certain facts deserve mention which might seem to support it. The geographical situation and extent of the Eighteen Provinces of China bear a marked resemblance to that part of the United States of America east of the Rocky Mountains. The erratic eccentricities of the climate of the United States are, as little Marjorie Fleming remarked of the multiplication table, "more than human nature can bear." It was Hawthorne who observed of New England that it has "no climate, but only samples." Contrast the weather in Boston, New York, or Chicago with that of places in the same latitude in China. It is not that China is not, as the geographies used to affirm, "subject to extremes of heat and cold," for in the latitude of Peking the thermometer ranges through about one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, which ought to afford sufficient variety of temperature to any mortal.

But in China these alternations of heat and cold do not follow one another with that reckless and incalculable lawlessness witnessed in the great republic, but with an even and unruffled sequence suited to an ancient and a patriarchal system. The Imperial almanac is the authorised exponent of the threefold harmony subsisting in China between heaven, earth, and man. Whether the Imperial almanac is equally trustworthy in all parts of the Emperor's broad domain we do not know, but in those regions with which we happen to be familiar the almanac is itself a signal-service. At the point marked for the "establishment of spring," spring appears. In several different years we have remarked that the day on which the "establishment of autumn" fell was distinguished by a marked change in the weather, after which the blistering heats of summer returned no more. Instead of allowing the frost to make irregular and devastating irruptions in every month of the year as is too often the case in lands where democracy rules the Chinese calendar fixes one of its four-and-twenty "terms" as "frost-fall." A few years ago this "term" fell on the 23d of October. Up to that day no lightest frost had been seen. On the morning of that day the ground was covered with white frost, and continued to be so covered every morning thereafter. We have noted these correspondences for some years, and have seldom observed a variation of more than the usual three days of grace.

It is not inanimate nature only which in China is amenable to reason and to law, but animated nature as well. For some years we have noticed that on a particular day in early spring the window-frames were adorned with several flies, where for many months no flies had been seen, and op each occasion we have turned to the Imperial almanac with a confidence justified by the event, and ascertained that this particular day was the one assigned for the "stirring of insects"!

It has been remarked that there is in the blood of the English-speaking race a certain lawlessness, which makes us intolerant of rules and restless under restraints. "Our sturdy English ancestors," says Blackstone, "held it beneath the condition of a freeman to appear, or to do any other act, at the precise time appointed." But for this trait of our doughty forefathers the doctrine of personal liberty and the rights of man might have waited long for assertion.

But now that these rights are tolerably well established, might we not judiciously lay somewhat more emphasis upon the importance of subordinating the individual will to the public good, and upon the majesty of law? And in these directions have we not something to learn from the Chinese?

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