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1.5. Testimonies to Honesty.

The author of “Twelve Years in China, by a British Resident” (John Scarth), writing in 1860, says—“After many years' experience in the north and south of China, I may state with safety that the greatest contrariety to ourselves marks the Chinese in their ideas of honesty and cheating. They cheat honestly! It is a paradox solved. You engage a compradore as chief of the Chinese in the household. He is generally supposed to be accountable for the honesty of the other servants; he is thoroughly correct in all his transactions,—often has very large dealings himself. You know he came to you not worth a hundred dollars, perhaps, yet he is soon worth thousands. The system is recognised: he gets a bonus some way or other on all payments, and in some transactions pays a percentage of it to all the other servants in the house. I have seen instances over and over again where there was positive inducement for undiscovered fraud, but the ordeal was passed through with most perfect honesty. Some of the compradores conduct most of the transactions in the sale of opium and other highly valuable produce during great fluctuations in the market. In Canton, the compradores' quotations for gold and silver, in which the transactions are immense, have scarcely any check; and yet in some houses and banks they conduct nearly all the purchases. They pack up the money, and I never knew a single instance in which the weights or amounts turned out intentionally incorrect, though they pack it, seal it, and often ship it off without a foreigner in the establishment ever having seen it. Sometimes a few inferior dollars may be returned, but the amounts are almost always correct. Money is received in untold sums; it is counted or weighed, a deficiency in the quantity that should be received is rarely to be found, and if there is an error it is generally discovered to be a mistake on the part of the sender. It has lately become a custom in Shanghai and Foochow, and to a small degree in Canton also, to intrust very large sums of money to Chinese for the purchase of tea and silk in the interior. The money is lost sight of for months in a country where a foreigner could not follow; yet, such is the honesty of the Chinese that the instances are rare in which the man intrusted with it has made off.… Out of a ‘chop’ of some five or six hundred packages of tea bought in Canton, seldom more than one per cent, used to be examined throughout. The tea goes to England, the few chests opened being taken as a criterion of the whole, and excepting from accidents on the way; or indifferent care in storage, damaging the tea, the whole proves to have been faithfully packed. Now


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and then a chest has been plundered and filled with rubbish, but considering the quantity of tea that is shipped from China, such cases are very rare when the tea is bought from the regular Canton merchant..... Valuable silk piece-goods are sent off in the same way. In Shanghai there is this difference, that the tea and silk are shipped from the foreigner's warehouse; there are often a hundred dirty vagabonds packing perhaps £10,000 or £20,000 worth of silk, every pound weight being worth about a month's wages to the scurvy-looking coolies that are handling it; yet there is rarely false packing or theft. In all places in China you may see a string of coolies rushing through the streets carrying loads of money; there is not a policeman to be seen, except occasionally at the gates, or in time of trouble. You may see a shroff [money examiner] with a lot of dollars in a flat tray, examining them intently as they pass click, click, over his thumb, sometimes a posse of idlers, consisting of chair-bearers, coolies, cooks and servants, all looking on. There does not seem to be even the suspicion that any one might attempt to kick the tray over, and bolt with what he can get in the scramble.… In sales to the Chinese, it is rare that any written document passes between the Chinaman and the foreigner. The transaction is entered in the foreigner's book, and considered closed. The goods may not be delivered or paid for till some time after, but I don't remember an instance of the price being disputed, even when the market had fallen. It is the same with purchases, though sometimes the petty traders in Shanghai are called upon to produce a chop, showing that they are empowered to sell the produce. No cognizance is taken in the consular courts of opium transactions. Millions of dollars' worth are sold in a year; and though it is contrary to the general rule to deliver the opium before the cash is paid, there are many instances, especially among the Indian native merchants, where credit is allowed; and the sums are nearly always duly paid, though there could have been no claim against the Chinese by law. This subject could be indefinitely extended, but the above will show, that as far as honesty is concerned, the Chinese do not deserve the bad character generally laid to their charge. I question much if the worthy colonists in Melbourne, or the citizens of San Francisco, could bear comparison with the Chinese for uprightness in their dealings, and yet they try and expel them from their neighbourhood, as if their presence were contamination.”

The Rev. J. L. Nevius, in his “China and the Chinese,” (1867), says—“We had so little fear of theft that our doors and drawers were often left unlocked, and servants and numerous visitors had free access to every part of our house. I am aware that others, both missionaries and merchants, have had a different experience, and that, especially in the foreign communities, it is as dangerous to leave coats and umbrellas near the halldoor when unlocked as it would be in New York or Philadelphia. I have travelled hundreds of miles in the interior, at different times and in different parts of the country, sometimes entirely alone, and have been completely in the power of perfect strangers who knew that I had about my person money and other articles of value, but have always felt nearly as great a sense of security as at home, and have hardly ever been treated with rudeness or violence, though I have been often annoyed beyond measure by exorbitant charges and useless detentions. I have heard the testimony of prominent merchants who have had large business transactions with the Chinese, in both China and California, who have represented Chinese business men as very prompt and reliable in meeting their business engagements. The confidence often placed in Chinese agents is seen in the fact that they are sent into the interior with large sums of money to purchase silks and tea, the persons employing them having no guarantee or dependence but that of their personal honesty.”

Mr. E. H. Parker, in his “China,” 1901, says—“As to mercantile honour, in spite of occasional lapses such as occur in all countries, it is so universally admitted that Chinese credit stands deservedly high, that I need not say another word about it. It is also a curious fact that, although Government credit vis-à-vis of the people stands so low that it could not well go lower, as regards foreign obligations it is, subject to political risks, as good as that of almost any country. It is quite pathetic to watch the extraordinary assiduity with which funds are collected for the service of the loans..... Nearly all foreigners who have ever been employed by Chinese, have noted the scrupulous punctuality with which their salaries are paid. The national honour seems very sensitive upon the point.”

After saying that the Chinese are “traders by intuition,” Mr. Alex. Michie, in “The Englishman in China,” 1900, says— “To crown all, there is to be noted, as the highest condition of successful trade, the evolution of commercial probity, which, though no monopoly of the Chinese merchants is one of their distinguishing characteristics.” He then quotes from Hunter's “Fankwae at Canton,” as follows—“When the business of the season was over, contracts were made with the Hong merchants for the next season. They consisted of teas of certain qualities and kinds, sometimes at fixed prices, sometimes at the prices which should be current at the time of the arrival of the teas. No other record of these contracts was ever made than by each party booking them; no written agreements were drawn up, nothing was sealed or attested. A wilful breach of contract never took place, and as regards quality and quantity the Hong merchants fulfilled their part with scrupulous honesty and care.” Again Michie says—“Judicial procedure being an abomination to respectable Chinese their security in commercial dealings is based as much upon reason, good faith, and non-repudiation as that of the Western Nation is upon verbal finesse in the construction of covenants..... The principles and commercial ethics of the Chinese, to which nothing has yet been found superior.” Again—“The Chinese are everywhere found enterprising and trustworthy men of business. Europeans, worried by the exhaustless refinements of the Marwarree or Bengali, find business with the Chinese in the Straits Settlements a positive luxury. Nor have the persecutions of the race in the United States and in self-governing British Colonies wholly extinguished the spark of honour which the Chinese carry with them into distant lands.”

The Rev. R. H. Graves, D. D., in “Forty Years in China,” (1895), says—“To steal from the poor is considered a great outrage. We have a practical illustration of this in China. I have seen a little stall of fruit or sweetmeats by the side of the street, with the prices marked on each pile of peanuts or sugar-cane, while no one is there to receive the money. Even a child would not think of helping himself, without paying the money. I am afraid that an apple-woman's stall would not be so safe with us. It would be thought thoroughly mean to steal from any person so poor as to have to eke out his living


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by the little street stall. Yet to appropriate to one's own use the property of a rich man would be thought no more robbery than many here would think it robbery when robbing the Government in a matter of taxes or paying duty at the Custom House.”

His Excellency Wu Ting-Fang, Chinese Minister to the United States, says in the “North American Review,” July, 1900—“It should be remembered that the Chinese standard of business honesty is very high. The ‘yea, yea’ of the Chinese merchants is as good as gold. Not a scrap of paper is necessary to bind him to his word.”

Mr. J. W. Robertson-Scott, in “The People of China” (1900), says—“The proverbial honesty of the Chinese merchant is reflected in the conduct of the Imperial authorities in their financial dealings with the foreigner. The Japanese War indemnity was promptly paid off, the loans China has obtained for railway construction and other purposes have been devoted to the objects specified, and interest obligations have been regularly met.”

Mr Poultney Bigelow, in an article in “Harper's Magazine,” April 1900, says—“I noticed [in Hong-Kong] that the white merchants entertained much respect for their yellow clerks and competitors, not merely because of their shrewdness in trade, but because of their honesty.”

Lord Charles Beresford, in “The Break-up of China,” says—“If it be objected that China itself is effete and rotten, I reply that this is false. The traditional official system is corrupt, but the Chinese people are honest. The integrity of their merchants is known to every banker and trader in the East, and their word is as good as their bond. They have, too, a traditional and idolatrous respect for authority, and all they need is an honest and good authority.”

Mr. W. H. Medhurst, Her Majesty's Consul at Shanghai, writing in 1872, thus refers to the general honesty of the Chinese—“Honesty, moreover, is by no means a rare virtue with the Chinese. Witness the magnitude of the pecuniary interests which are at this moment confided by our merchants to compradores, servants, and friendly traders. Nowhere, perhaps, is this tendency in the main towards honesty more notable than amongst the personal establishments maintained by foreigners at the ports. Their houses are as a rule plentifully furnished with articles of luxury and vertu, often of considerable value, very much as is the case with well-appointed residences in the West; and although the occupants never think of locking up even their jewellery, stray money, &c., yet it is rarely that anything is missed through the fault of the indoor servants. As far as my own experience of some thirty years' residence in the country is to be relied on, I can vouch for never having lost a single article save a small revolver, and that was restored a few days afterwards on my assembling the servants and appealing to their sense of right not to allow the stain of theft to rest on the household. They discovered the thief without difficulty, and he was soon obliged by the rest to leave my service.”

Mr. R. H. Douglas, in his “Society in China,” says— “The merchants and traders of China have gained the respect and won the admiration of all those who have been brought into contact with them. For honesty and integrity they have earned universal praise.”

The Rev. Dr. Newman, writing of the honesty of the Chinese in California about 30 years ago, says—“As they are industrious, so are they reliable in business. On page 797 of the Report of the Joint Special Committee on Chinese Immigration, of which the late Senator Morton was chairman, is the testimony of the cashier of the Anglo-California Bank, to the effect that the average business done with the Chinese is 1,500,000 dols. a year, and that he had always found them straightforward. On page 853, Mr. Macrondray, of the old firm of Macrondray and Co., testified that they had dealings with Chinese merchants to the extent of 600,000 dols. a year, and in 26 years had not lost a dollar by them.”

Mr. Joaquin Miller, writing in the “North American Review,” December 1901, says—“As to the honesty of these people, I appeal to every English merchant or banker, from Pekin to Hong Kong, to answer if he ever heard of a dishonest Chinese merchant or banker. So far from that, not only has every English bank two Chinamen to receive and hand out money, but every [English] bank in Japan has the same.”

The following emphatic testimony by Sir Thomas Jackson, the chief manager of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, to the sterling honesty of the Chinese, is from the “Japan Mail,” May 1902.—“Speaking at a banquet tendered him by the Chinese community on the eve of his departure from Hong Kong, Sir Thomas Jackson said: ‘In reviewing my long career, I would wish to say that I could sum up the whole 26 years of the management in Hong Kong with one word, and that word is ‘Thankfulness.’ Speaking again of the Chinese community, with whom the Bank has had more to do than with any other, I do not wish to make use of the old hackneyed expression, however right and proper, which took its rise in the days of the East India Company in China, that ‘a Chinese merchant's word is as good as his bond’; but following the example of Lord Rosebery I will find a new expression. I maintain that a Chinaman's word is better than his bond.—(Applause.) A good many of our clients do not know much about law and they may even think there is a bit of a trick about every scrap of document with a stamp upon it; but the good old words ‘putter book’ constitute not only an equitable agreement but a debt of honour, which only stern necessity would prevent from being thoroughly carried out.’—(Applause.)”—This is strong testimony when it is remembered that nineteen-twentieths of the inhabitants of Hong Kong are Chinese.

Mr. Cameron, manager of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, in his farewell to Shanghai, speaks of his experience as follows:—“I have referred to the high commercial standing of the foreign community. The Chinese are in no way behind us ourselves in that respect; in fact, I know of no people in the world I would sooner trust than the Chinese merchant and banker. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but to show that I have good reasons for making such a strong statement, I may mention that for the last twenty-five years the bank has been doing a very large business with Chinese in Shanghai, amounting, I should say, to hundreds of millions of taels, and we have never yet met with a defaulting Chinaman!




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