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1.13. The Chinese a Polite People.

I think it will be generally admitted that the Chinese, perhaps with the exception of the Japanese, are the most polite people in the world.

Mr. Hancock, a gentleman high in the Chinese Customs Service, said to me—“If you tell a mandarin that he lies, he will laugh, and think how clever you are to find him out; but if you tell him he is wanting in politeness, you will grieve him or anger him very much. It is considered a great insult to tell a Chinaman that he is wanting in politeness, so greatly does he prize that quality.”

Hon. Chester Holcombe, in his “Real Chinese Question,” (1901) says: “Possessing a high standard of morals, and to a considerable extent living in accordance with it, he yet places refinement of courtesy and manner upon a higher level.” Speaking on the same subject in his previous work “The Real Chinaman,” (1895), he says—“Much of the falsehood to which the Chinese as a nation are said to be addicted is a result of the demands of etiquette. A plain, frank ‘no’ is the height of discourtesy. Refusal or denial of any sort must be softened and toned down into an expression of regretted inability. Unwillingness to grant a favour is never shown. In place of it there is seen a chastened feeling of sorrow that unavoidable, but quite imaginary, circumstances render it wholly impossible. Centuries of practice in this form of evasion have made the Chinese matchlessly fertile in the invention and development of excuses. It is rare indeed that one is caught at a loss for a bit of artfully embroidered fiction with which to hide an unwelcome truth. The same remark holds good in regard to all manner of disagreeable subjects of conversation. They must be avoided. Any number of winding paths may be made around them but none must ever go directly through. A Chinese very seldom will make an intentionally disagreeable or offensive remark.”

Rev. E. J. Dukes, in his “Everyday Life in China,” says— “After a lengthened residence in China there is nothing that strikes an Englishman more on his return to England than the brusqueness of his own countrymen. We are so accustomed at home to what the Chinaman would call ignorance of the proprieties, and we so consistently ignore these same proprieties ourselves, that we cannot appreciate the difference between Chinese and English manners unless we have been to the East. The selfish disregard of the convenience of others, shown especially by young men and women in our streets, in trains and tramcars, is behaviour practically unknown in China. Polite request or apology seldom fails to be expressed at the proper moment by the Chinaman.”

Mr. G. Tradescant Lay, in “The Chinese as They Are,” (1841), says—“In walking abroad the stranger may wonder at what two gentlemen can so suddenly have found to dispute about; but he soon perceives that each of them is severally refusing to advance a step till the other has set the example and consented to go ahead. As three or four of us were one day taking some refreshment at the house of a Chinese merchant, a friend came up to the door, but on seeing strangers modestly retired; whereupon two or three of the company ran after him, haled him back, set him down at the table, placed wine and some delicacy before him, and fairly compelled him to eat and to drink. So well is it understood that the principles


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of true politeness will sometimes authorize a violation of all its outward forms,—that it is our duty to make our friends happy whether they will or not, and to release them from the temptation of saying ‘No’ when they are fain to say ‘Yes.’ ”

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