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the interest of the narrative itself abounding as

publish 2022-11-21,browse 20
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the interest of the narrative itself, abounding as it does with minute and curious details of the manners and customs of so peculiar a race as the chinese, requires no vindication: it will speak for itself.it will nevertheless interest those who appreciate the objects of the society, to know, that the present translation was made at hakluyts own suggestion, shortly after the appearance of mendozas original work in spanish.it is the leading purpose of the hakluyt society to deal with the archæology of geography, and more especially so in connexion with the progress made by our own english ancestors in the advancement of that important science.in pursuance of that object, therefore, mendozas account of china has been selected for republication, as being the earliest _detailed_ account of that country ever published in the english language.we say _detailed_ account, because we must not omit to mention that it was preceded by a short but interesting document, published by richard eden in his _history of travayle in the west and east indies_, entitled reportes of the province of china, of the history and contents of which we shall hereafter speak in its proper place.while, however, in the selection for republication, respect is paid to the earliest narratives which appeared in our own tongue, the readers appreciation of the subject is best secured by an introductory notice of all the antecedent descriptions which may at intervals have appeared in other languages.this plan is more especially desirable with respect to those earlier glimmerings of information which europe obtained respecting a country so removed from the civilized world, by its geographical position and ethnological peculiarities, as china, yet so marvellously in advance of it at the times of which we speak, both in its intellectual and moral developments.in such notice, meanwhile, we propose to pass by all discussion as to the much disputed question of the position of the thinæ of eratosthenes, strabo, and the periplus of the erythræan sea, or of the application of marinuss serica, as preserved to us by ptolemy, to the kingdom of china.upon these more uncertain data we shall dwell no longer than to state, that our own impression agrees with that of vossius, that china is the country referred to, and that the seres of ammianus marcellinus, corresponding as they so closely do in character with the modern chinese, were intended to represent that people.that the romans possessed some knowledge of china, would seem to be shown by a discovery made by the learned de guignes, of a statement in a chinese historical work, that in the year of our lord 166, an embassy, said to have come by sea, arrived from anthon (antoninus) to the emperor yanhi; and the use of the serica vestis, alluded to by horace and propertius, would appear to confirm the impression, provided only that silk, and not muslin, were the commodity really alluded to.on these less certain points, however, we are, as we have said, unwilling to dwell.we pass on therefore to the mention of more explicit and unquestionable record.first of these is the narrative given in an arabic manuscript, written about the year 1173, describing the observations of two arab merchants, who, from the style of the documents, were evidently in china a couple of centuries earlier.their respective dates, indeed, are concluded to be 851 and 867.this curious and valuable manuscript, discovered by the learned m.eusèbe renaudot in the comte de seignelays library, was translated by him into french, and published at paris in 1718.a translation appeared in english in 1733.although thus concealed from the acquaintance of europeans till this comparatively recent date, it rightly takes its place here as comprising the two earliest accounts of china, of which we have as yet received any information.though adulterated with some few exaggerations, and statements manifestly fabulous, they contain so many curious particulars, which even now, from the permanence of institutions and manners in china, may be considered as accurate, that no doubt can be entertained of their genuineness, or of the intelligence of the narrators.the two narratives were written consecutively, one of them forming a sort of comment or supplement to the other.the country is described as extensive, but, though more populous, less extensive than the indies, and divided into many principalities.it is represented as fruitful, and containing no deserts, while india is said to contain some of great extent.tea, under the name of _tcha_, is distinctly referred to, as being universally drunk infused in hot water, and supposed to be a cure for every disease.porcelain is spoken of as an excellent kind of earth, of which is made a ware as fine and transparent as glass.the chinese are described as more handsome than the indians, and are dressed in silk both winter and summer; and this kind of dress is common to the prince, the soldier, and to every other person, though of the lowest degree.in winter they wear drawers, of a particular make, which fall down to their feet.of these they put on two, three, four, five, or more, if they can, one over another; and are very careful to be covered quite down to their feet, because of the damps, which are very great and much dreaded by them.in summer they only wear a single garment of silk, or some such dress, but have no turbans.their common food is rice, which they often eat with a broth, like what the arabs make of meat or fish, which they pour upon their rice.their kings eat wheaten bread, and all sorts of animals, not excepting swine, and some others.they have several sort of fruits, apples, lemons, quinces, sugarcanes, citruls, figs, grapes, cucumbers of two sorts, trees which bear meal, walnuts, filberts, pistachios, plums, apricocks, services [cherries], and coconuts; but they have no store of palms; they have only a few about some private houses.their drink is a kind of wine made of rice; they have no other wine in the country, nor is there any brought to them; they know not what it is, nor do they drink of it.they have vinegar also, and a kind of comfit like what the arabs call natef, and some others.they are not very nice in point of cleanliness.they eat also of dead animals, and practice in many other things like the magians; and, in truth, the religion of the one and the other is much the same.the chinese women appear uncovered, and adorn their heads with small ivory and other combs, of which they shall wear sometimes a score together.the men are covered with caps of a particular make.they are very expert mechanics, but ignorant of the arts that depend on the mathematics.the knowledge of reading and writing is described as being general amongst them, all important transactions being put into writing.idolatry is mentioned as very prevalent, and a hideous and incomprehensible statement is made, of human flesh being publicly exposed for sale in the markets.at the same time the punishment of vice is represented as most severe, and the surveillance over individuals extremely rigid, for everybody in china, whether a native, an arab, or any other foreigner, is obliged to declare all he knows of himself, nor can he possibly be excused for so doing.and thieves are put to death as soon as caught.canfu (canton) is mentioned as the seaport of china, resorted to by arabian shipping; and cumdan, described as a very splendid city, supposed to be nanking, was the residence of the monarch.renaudot, to whom the world is indebted for rescuing this narrative from obscurity, believes that it supplied edrisi, the celebrated arab geographer of the twelfth century, with the materials for the observations on china which occur in his _geographia nubiensis_; but this reproach would seem to be unfounded, inasmuch as his details are too few and vague, to warrant the conclusion that they were digested from the more lucid and ample account to which we have been referring.the most observable point of information with which edrisi supplies us, is the fact, that the northern parts of _sin_ had by that time been conquered by a tartar nation, whom he calls the baghargar turks.abulfeda also, who flourished nearly two centuries later, seems to have been equally ignorant of the existence of the two arab travellers; for he gives, as an apology for the ignorance of the geographers of that day respecting china, that no one had been there from whom they could procure information.the incidental reference to china by benjamin of tudela, a jewish traveller in the east, of the twelfth century, should not be omitted.it is but a reference, but curious enough to be quoted.it is as follows: from thence (the island of khandy) the passage to china is effected in forty days; this country lies eastward, and some say that the star orion predominates in the sea which bounds it, and which is called sea of nikpha.sometimes so violent a storm rages in this sea, that no mariner can reach his vessel; and whenever the storm throws a ship into this sea, it is impossible to govern it; the crew and the passengers consume their provisions, and then die miserably

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