Myths and Legends of China

Page: 21

They have fed themselves on almost everything edible to be found on, under, or above land or water, except milk, but live chiefly on rice, chicken, fish, vegetables, including garlic, and tea, though at one time they ate flesh and drank wine, sometimes to excess, before tea was cultivated. They have clothed themselves in skins and feathers, and then in silks and satins, but mostly in cotton, and hardly ever in wool. Under the Manchu régime the type of dress adopted was that of this horse-riding race, showing the chief characteristics of that noble animal, the broad sleeves representing the hoofs, the queue the mane, etc. This queue was formed of the hair growing from the back part of the scalp, the front of which was shaved. Unlike the Egyptians, they did not wear wigs. They have nearly always had the decency to wear their coats long, and have despised the Westerner for wearing his too short. They are now paradoxical enough to make the mistake of adopting the Westerner’s costume.

They have made to themselves great canals, bridges, aqueducts, and the longest wall there has ever been on the face of the earth (which could not be seen from the moon, as some sinologists have erroneously supposed, any more than a hair, however long, could be seen at a distance of a hundred yards). They have made long and wide roads, but failed to keep them in repair during the last few centuries, though much zeal, possibly due to commerce on oil- or electricity-driven wheels, is now being shown in this direction. They have built honorary portals to chaste widows, pagodas, and arched bridges of great Page 59beauty, not forgetting to surround each city with a high and substantial wall to keep out unfriendly people. They have made innumerable implements and weapons, from pens and fans and chopsticks to ploughs and carts and ships; from fiery darts, ‘flame elephants,’ bows and spears, spiked chariots, battering-rams, and hurling-engines to mangonels, trebuchets, matchlocks of wrought iron and plain bore with long barrels resting on a stock, and gingals fourteen feet long resting on a tripod, cuirasses of quilted cotton cloth covered with brass knobs, and helmets of iron or polished steel, sometimes inlaid, with neck- and ear-lappets. And they have been content not to improve upon these to any appreciable extent; but have lately shown a tendency to make the later patterns imported from the West in their own factories.

They have produced one of the greatest and most remarkable accumulations of literature the world has ever seen, and the finest porcelain; some music, not very fine; and some magnificent painting, though hardly any sculpture, and little architecture that will live. Page 60

Chapter II

On Chinese Mythology

Mythology and Intellectual Progress

The Manichæst, yin-yang (dualist), idea of existence, to which further reference will be made in the next chapter, finds its illustration in the dual life, real and imaginary, of all the peoples of the earth. They have both real histories and mythological histories. In the preceding chapter I have dealt briefly with the first—the life of reality—in China from the earliest times to the present day; the succeeding chapters are concerned with the second—the life of imagination. A survey of the first was necessary for a complete understanding of the second. The two react upon each other, affecting the national character and through it the history of the world.

Mythology is the science of the unscientific man’s explanation of what we call the Otherworld—itself and its denizens, their mysterious habits and surprising actions both there and here, usually including the creation of this world also. By the Otherworld he does not necessarily mean anything distant or even invisible, though the things he explains would mostly be included by us under those terms. In some countries myths are abundant, in others scarce. Why should this be? Why should some peoples tell many and marvellous tales about their gods and others say little about them, though they may say a great deal to them? We recall the ‘great’ myths of Greece and Scandinavia. Other races are ‘poor’ in myths. The difference is to be explained by the mental characters of the peoples as moulded by their surroundings and hereditary tendencies. The problem is of course a psychological one, for it is, as already noted, in imagination Page 61that myths have their root. Now imagination grows with each stage of intellectual progress, for intellectual progress implies increasing representativeness of thought. In the lower stages of human development imagination is feeble and unproductive; in the highest stages it is strong and constructive.