The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Friday, 8 August 2008

26. i) Where the roses have no fragrance, and the women no petticoats

Admirable efforts to strand for bland even-handedness in the BBC's relentless coverage of Beijing's International Sporting Jamboree.

"Is there an atmosphere of genuine celebration, or is it more forced?" the host of Radio 4's Today programme asked a roving sports correspondent. I can't recall the wording of the response to the question, but non-committal would cover it.

Would the forecast rain dampen spirits in the upcoming festivities? "It's not in the Chinese character to show disappointment."

Far be it from me to suggest that these observations tend towards portraying a national character somewhat... lacking scrutability.

From CHINA by R. K. Douglas, Professor of Chinese, King's College, London :

"Turning to the every-day customs and manners of the Chinese, it is passing strange to find how diametrically opposed they are to what we are familiar with. In a country "where," as has been said by Wingrove Cook, "the roses have no fragrance, and the women no petticoats ; where the labourer has no Sabbath, and the magistrate no sense of honour ; where the needle points to the south, and the sign of being puzzled is to scratch the antipodes of the head; where the place of honour is on the left hand, and the seat of intellect is in the stomach ; where to take off your hat is an insolent gesture, and to wear white garments is to put yourself in mourning," it would at first sight seem useless to seek for any point of similarity with ourselves. But it is extremely probable, for instance, that the choice of the left as the seat of honour is in principle entirely at one with our custom of considering the right hand as the place due to the most highly-honoured guest, and that both are survivals of the ancient and almost universal adoration of the sun.[Here follows a laborious proof of this hypothesis : on your behalf I am going to take the professor's assertions on faith] In daily life the Chinese are frugal, sober, and industrious."

More 19th century British opinion on China soon.

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