Sir Robert Hart

Sir Robert Hart on ‘China and the Chinese’

From the WhitefriarsJournal, vol.III, no. 9, pp. 156-57.

One of the most successful weekly dinners of the session was that of November 20th, when Sir Robert Hart, GCMG, was the guest of the Club. Friar Edward Clodd was Prior for the evening, and in inviting the guest to open a conversation on the appropriate topic of ‘China and the Chinese’ he delivered a gracious message from Friar George Meredith, who said that he regarded Sir Robert, Hart with the deepest respect, because he had influenced the East with all that was best in the West.

Sir Robert Hart said that when he went to China in 1854 the Taiping Rebellion was giving trouble, and after it was over and the Mandarins returned home they were surprised to find that so many dues had been honestly collected and distributed.

The coast was then infested by pirates. At Ningpo twenty-eight Canton vessels had appeared, and some British ships were sent to blow them up. After the Chinese junks had submitted to the authorities they were converted into the first Chinese navy, but only fourteen of them were put into commission. The rest went on with piracy as usual. At that time convoying vessels was a profitable trade, and there were dangers of many kinds to avert. All foreigners were about to be killed on one occasion at the place where he resided, and his servants left. Some Portuguese vessels were driven into the Ningpo River and destroyed. At the nick of time a French corvette arrived from South America and saved the situation. The circumstance was accidental, and he often thought how, when his career was spoken about, everyone is more or less a creature of circumstance.

He was then transferred to Canton and to Sir Harry Parkes, and was present at the first experiments made with the electric telegraph between the Porcelain Pagoda and the Jetty at Canton. Sir Harry Parkes was at one end of the line with a Mandarin,

and he (Sir Robert Hart) with the Viceroy of Canton at the other. But the answers given to the questions arranged beforehand had nothing to do with the inquiries made. The sceptical Chinese made such replies purposely in order to puzzle the Europeans, and confirm their disbelief in any barbarian invention, because the Chinamen held that everything that could be invented had been produced ages ago in their own country. Thus, gunpowder was invented in China long before it was discovered in Europe. But it had never been used for killing. The Chinaman had employed it solely for fireworks and harmless crackers.

Printing, again, had been in vogue in China long before Caxton had appeared in the West. A great Chinese teacher had appeared 500 years B.C. He was Confucius. When asked if there was a God, he replied that he did not know, but he advised his questioners to act as if God existed and they were in His presence. Confucian ethics, as looked upon and acted up to by the Chinese, were in many ways superior to the ethics of Christianity. The Chinaman said: ‘When you want to do anything, you call in force. We abominate that sort of thing. Reason is what we look to.’ Yet, when a Chinaman was unreasonable, he could be very unreasonable indeed. He (Sir Robert Hart) spent seven weeks in the Legation at the time of the Boxer rising, and if the Chinese had chosen to push home their attack they could have finished the Europeans easily in fifteen minutes.

Formerly, in China, the only way of rising to the front was by examination, and the man of brains was the most powerful. The educated Chinaman had very clear views concerning might and right. Right, he considered, was unchangeable, whilst might was changeable according to circumstances. Whilst following the ethics of Confucius the thoughtful Chinaman regarded the European advocacy of might as an act of retrogression in civilisation. But, owing to that influence, the Chinese examinations had now been modified, and Western ideas were being adopted.

The military spirit was being cultivated. It would not be aroused for a generation or more, because in China things went slowly. Even then, the Chinaman would not be against the world. The nation was making itself strong because it was necessary in self-defence. Happily for the world, it would be a long time before China got away from Confucian ethics. The Emperor was dead. He was a man of gentle nature. The Empress also was dead. She was a woman of extraordinary ability. What the new Emperor would do it was difficult to say, but his father was likely to carry on friendship with the other Powers for the advancement of the Chinese nation.

Railways, telegraphs, the postal system and the publication of newspapers

were advancing. If China was treated in a kind and sympathetic way, the West had nothing to fear from that quarter. But the four hundred millions would some day be a very great nation.

Sir Robert Hart spoke with great fluency on many matters relating to China, and he was followed by Sir Alfred Lyall, who contributed sympathetically to the conversation. Other speakers were Mr. Collins, Friar Mackenzie, Mr. Macartney, Friar Foster Fraser, Friar Osman Edwards; the Prior summing up before Sir

Robert Hart concluded a memorable evening by briefly replying to various questions which had been put during the evening.


Sir Rennell. Rodd, K.C.M.G., was the guest of the evening" on November 27th, when Friar Clement K. Shorter occupied the Priorchair. - The subjecl of conversation was "The Message of Greece and Rome To-day,'* and in his opening address Sir Rennell Rodd spoke with learning and literary grace of the divers in fluences of Greece arid Rome upon modern civilisation, and of our indebtedness to classical times in art, literature and government.

His audience were so miich in agreement with the truths he expressed that there was little room for discussion, and the conversation turned largely upon the subject of Democracy.

Among- those who contributed to it were Mr. George Whale, the Rev. W. J. Street, and Friars Richard Whiteing, Gilbert Coleridge, G.B. Burg;in, Desmond Coke, Wilfred Whitten, R. Leighton and the Rev. C. H. Grundy. Dr. Chalmers Mitchell, F.R.S., Secretary of the Royal Zoological Society, was the guest of the Club on December 4th, the Prior being Friar Wilfred Whitten. Dr. Mitchell's subject was The Duration of Life," and he gave many interesting examples of. the varyiilg measure of life given to different sentient beings. Apart from bacteria, which might live for a few minutes, rotifers passed the whole .cycle of their existence within forty to fifty hours, plant-lice of quite elaborate construction averaged a life of one month, the working bee or drone lived only a few months, while a queen ant belonging to Lord Avebury had lived thirteen years, and a common cockroach might live twenty years. Grasshoppers were good for seventeen years, whilst many fish die within twelve months, although a pike would live up to one hundred years, and the tortoise a hundred and fifty years. Singing birds seldom exceeded twelve years, and pheasants or fowls fourteen years, whilst biMs of prey and parrots would live upwards of a hundred and fifty years. In mammals -the duration of life was less. Mice would live four or five years, guinea-pigs and rabbits seven years, sheep and goat's fourteen or fifteen 'years, Ciattle -and ho-rses twenty-five to forty years, and the rhinoceros and elephant were reputed to Jive as much as two. centuries, but in confinement they had never reached more than from thirty to forty years, the- ma,:^i^ufli in army elephants being fifty to sixty years. Man occasionally lived one hundred years, and, generally speaking, his death was a mere accident. The speaker then entered into a discussion as to the possibility of eliminating disease. It was as possible to


exterminate noxious microbes as it had been to exterminate wolves in Engfland, but if disease were wholly eliminated it would cause. people to acquiesce in and after a certain time to longfor death, and this possibility offered a wide field for discussion. Friar Sir F. Carruthers Gould, debating the subject, asked why it was that people lived so long in Scotland. He conjectured that it was because of an economical desire to avoid funeral expenses.

Other speakers were Mr. Lewis Hind, Friar Charles Garvice, Mr. Jephson, and Mr. Stephen Reynolds. The Annual Generate Meeting of the Club was held after dinner on December nth. Friar G. H. Perkins being in the chair. The following report and balance sheet were presented :—

A *


The Committee have once again the pleasing duty of submit ting to the brotherhood a satisfactory report of the year's working of  the Club .

Our financial condition remains eminently sound, and our progress socially continues to be marked by the harmony which has always been a distinct characteristic of the fraternity. The Committee are especially gratified at being able to refer to the happy circumstance that there has not been any death in the circle during the year.

One vacancy in the limited roll of one hundred town members has occurred by resignation, and has been filled by the election of Mr. E. C. Bentley, of the Editorial Staff of the "Daily News." Two new country members have also been welcomed into our midst, namely, Mr. Ward Muir and Mr. William Archbald. During the twelve months the Committee have arranged in all 22 dinners; four of these have been informal House Dinners, to which Club guests have not been invited. Our special guests at the weekly dinners have been : The Lord Bishop of Hereford, Mr. Granville Barker, the Hon. Maurice Baring, Mr. Justice Neville, Professor Silvanus Thompson, Mr. W. Pett Ridge, Mr. Rudolph C. Lehmann, M.P., General Sir William Butler, Mr. Andrew Lang, Colonel Seely, M.P., Mr. Sydney Buxton, M.P. (the Postmaster-General), Sir Robert Hart, Sir Rennell Rodd, and Dr . Chalmers Mitchell .

A special arid interesting event was the dinner of October 30th, *