A description of the solemnities observed at pe-king,

A description of the solemnities observed at pe-king,when the emperor's mother entered on the sixtieth year of her age. 

In a letter from P. Amyot a Jesuit missionary, to P. Attart of the same society. 

Pe-king, October 20. 1752. 

Reverend father, 

YOU must have learnt from the letters of our missionaries, and from the public news-papers, the present state of religion in this country : Taking it for granted then that you are sufficiently informed on this head, I shall at present confine myself to a relation of my voyage from Canton to Pe-king, and of what I have seen most wonderful in this capital of the empire. 

On the sixteenth of December 1 750, the Jesuits who reside here presented a petition to the Emperor, in which they informed him of the arrival of three of their brethren (two Portuguese Jesuits and myself) adding that the knowledge we had of the European sciences, and among the rest of mathematics, music and pharmacy, might be of use, if it pleased his Majesty to send for us to the capital. That Prince graciously consented to their desires. He even ordered the three Europeans whom they had mentioned to him, to be brought at his own expence. The Emperor's pleasure was signified to the tribunals at Pe-king. These. gave notice to the Viceroy of Canton, and enjoined him to provide every thing necessary for our journey, informing him that it was his Majesty's intention that we would be treated according to the ancient rites. 

There is no doubt but the infidels, who had applauded themselves on the persecution of the church, must see with regret the ministers of the gospel called to court. Nevertheless those who had in charge to conduct us, obeyed the orders they had received without reply or delay: and towards the beginning of March in the year 1751, the Mandarines of Canton sent to the Procurator of Macao, as being the representative of the Europeans, to demand, according to custom, if we ere arrived, and if we were in good health. They also gave him in charge to intreat us to fix upon a day for our departure. As we had been informed of all that had passed at court concerning us, we had begun to take some of the previous steps necessary for our journey, and our Chinese habits were already making. We returned for answer therefore, that on March 28 we would be ready to set out for Canton. The day appointed being arrived , I had by this time pretty well instructed and exercised myself in the Chinese manners and forms of behaviour. It was repeated to me, what I had often heard, that this was a country where the greatest attention must be paid to outward observances; that to fail in one of the least of these was almost to commit a capital crime; and that a missionary, if he would gather any fruit, ought to be very expert in them, otherwise he would not even obtain a hearing from the Chinese, who would regard him as a savage. More in China than any where else, it is necessary to become all things to all men, in order to gain over men to Christ. 

Towards three o'clock in the evening, accompanied by such of our fathers (as well French as Portuguese) as would do us that favour, we went down to the bark which was to transport us to Canton. Having taken our leaves of each other, we surrendered ourselves up to Providence, and embarked in order to lie but two leagues farther on, opposite to a guard-house, which was also the station of some Chinese Mandarines, who are set there to guard the first avenues into their country. This precaution of taking up ones lodging every evening near the house of some person of authority, is necessary to secure one as well from the violence and fury, as from the subtle address of the robbers which swarm in these parts. These fort of gentry perform here such wonderful feats, that even those who suffer by them, would admire them, and could not help laughing, if it concerned any thing less than their fortunes. 

We did not get to Canton till after five days gentle sailing. The Viceroy dispensed with our going in person to visit him. Billets made up after the fashion, and according to the ceremonial of the country, acquitted us of this obligation, as well with regard to him as the other Mandarines. As we were to go from Canton to Pe-king at the expence of the Emperor, it was the Chinese magistracy that was to furnish us with necessaries. They were further required to appoint us a Mandarine to watch over our safety upon the road. Things are here managed but slowly. Sixty-four days elapsed before this affair could be brought to a conclusion. We were obliged to pass all this time on board our barks, in the port of Canton, exposed to all the heats of a broiling sun, and to the infection of a mud composed of all sorts of filth, which the reflux of the river leaves every day. 

At length on the first of June 1751, they told us our affairs were finished; that our passport was writ out; that our people were furnished for our necessary expences ; and that one of the Mandarines of the marine had order to provide us barks ; for those in which we were at present were not proper for travelling, and did not belong to the Emperor. The next morning the barks were provided; the Mandarine who was to conduct us came to present himself; and towards evening we rowed northwards. I quitted with pleasure a residence where my health had like to have suffered a sad shipwreck. 

From Canton to Nan-chang, I saw nothing that could deserve attention, except the mountain which separates the province of Canton from that of Kiang-si. This mountain affords one of the most charming views I ever beheld. It is broken and intersected by most delightful valleys, which are watered by innumerable little brooks and rivulets, These brooks, after winding for a considerable space in a serpentine direction, at length unite to form a river, which carries fertility into the adjacent countries. A great road paved with flints, which nature hath formed of various colours, and to which the multitude of passengers hath given all the polish of the fined marble, crosses this mountain for the pleasure and convenience of travellers. Men alone perform upon this road the office which beasts of burden discharge elsewhere. It is necessary for them only to have upon their feet shoes woven of a kind of cord peculiar to the country : and, as it is the only passage for those who don't chuse to continue their journey by water, or would considerably shorten it, it is every day frequented by thousands of people, so that you would rather take it for a continual market or fair, than for a public road. It requires a whole day to cross this mountain, after which a person is at liberty either to continue his journey by land, or to re-imbark, as he pleases. We chose the latter, in order to go to Nan-chang. 

From Nan-clang to Pe-king, I experienced nothing but ill health, pain, and bad roads. It took us up forty-five days to get thither. The Mandarine, who escorted us, suffered us only to advance by very short stages. More than once we intreated him to let us go a little falter: we always received from him the fame answer. " You are strangers, said he, ignorant of our customs. By the Emperor's order, " I have the charge of your precious persons : the weather is very hot, I am only careful not to expose you to distempers. Besides, added he ; " they are only mean people, who can " travel with precipitation." We were obliged to seem contented with these reasons, and to resolve to bear with patience the tediousness of the most disagreeable passage that can be conceived. For think not, that they travel here as in other places. Shut up in a litter, like a box, one is scarce permitted, in order to take breath, to open little loop holes, which are scantily made in the two sides. When a person arrives at an inn to take refreshment or repose, it would be a monstrous indecency to go out, in order to feast his eyes with whatever there might be curious in the place. Thus, in a journey of five hundred leagues, through one of the fined countries in the world, I have not seen enough to afford you entertainment for one quarter of an hour. 

On Sunday the twenty-second of August, about noon, we arrived at Pe-king. Some of our fathers came to meet us two leagues from the city. They invited us to alight at the college belonging to the Portuguese Jesuits, that we might convey ourselves thence to the chapel of Monsigneur the bishop, where this prelate awaited our coming, cloathed in his pontifical habits. We had the honour to be preferred to him, and to receive his benediction. The circumstances of the lad persecution, and the present state of religion, afforded him most pathetic and affecting terms, for a little discourse, which he addressed to us: after which, to the found of Chinese instruments, he sung mass, to thank God for having brought him a reinforcement against the common enemy of mankind. 

Some days after our arrival, we transported ourselves to Hai-tien (three leagues from Pe-king) where the court was at that time. The Tartarian lord, who is charged here with all affairs relating to us, gave notice to one of the Eunuchs of the presence, that the Europeans who were newly arrived, were come with their brethren, to pay homage to his Majesty and to offer him presents. The Eunuch informed the Emperor of it ; and this Prince answered after the accustomed manner, in the three following words: I know it; for here the Emperor always knows every thing. Then our presents were sent in, and we were commanded to perform the ceremonies prescribed upon these occasions, which we executed in the following manner. In one of the courts, where we were ranged all in a line, with our faces turned towards the Emperor's apartment, we prostrated ourselves all at once with great gravity, and in a profound and respectful silence. Thrice we hit the ground with our foreheads. We got up, to go through the lame ceremony afresh: which we also performed a third time: after which we were commanded to wait his Majesty's orders. After some hours had passed away, they came to tell us that the Emperor had done us the honour to accept many of cur presents, and had send us victuals from his table. At the same time these were delivered to us, and we eat them standing in the same place, where we were. Thus ended the ceremony of our reception into the Emperor's service. After this we were at liberty to go and come as we thought proper. I passed several days at first in returning visits, which I had received, and in feeing the curiosities of the country. I describe none of them here, because I could only tell you, what a hundred others have said before me, and what you will find in all the books, which treat of China. A solemnity, which does not often happen, and which is worthy of your curiosity, will afford me an opportunity of entertaining you in a more interesting manner. I only beg of you to recall to mind from time to time, in reading what follows, that I only relate what I have seen, so that if you find any thing wonderful and surprizing you may not be tempted to call it in doubt. 

It is in China an ancient custom to celebrate with great pomp the day when the Emperor's mother enters up on the sixtieth year of her age. Some months before that day arrived, all the Tribunals of the capital, all the Viceroys and great Mandarines of the empire, had orders to prepare themselves for the aforementioned ceremony, the most splendid, that is observed in these parts. All the painters, engravers, architects, and joiners of Pe-king and the neighbouring provinces, were without intermission employed for more than three months together in making, every one, the nicest works of his respective art. Many other kinds of artists had also employment. The business was to construct something that might charm the eyes of a delicate and voluptuous court, accustomed to see whatever is most beautiful in the works of art brought from the four quarters of the globe. The decorations were to begin at one of the Emperor's houses of pleasure, which is at Yuen-min-yuen, and to terminate at the palace which is at Pe-king in the center of the Tartarian city these are distant from each other, about four leagues. 

There are two roads which lead from one of these palaces to the other. The Emperor ordered that the procession should be made along that which runs by the river side. Immediately all the preparations were turned towards that quarter. The Prince caused new barks to be built nearly of the fame size and form as our brigantines. The gilding and variety of colours, with which they were adorned, gave a dazzling splendour. These barks were intended to carry the Emperor, the Empress-mother, and all the persons of their retinue: but by an accident, which the Emperor himself foresaw, and which any persons of good sense might have foreseen as well as he, they were of ho use. 

At Pe-king the cold is extream, and, as it was in the most rigorous season of the year that the ceremony was to take place, it was natural to think that the river would not be navigable. Some Mandarines nevertheless assured the Emperor that they could easily surmount this difficulty. And they took the following method to effect it. By their appointment thousands of Chinese were employed night and day, some in beating and agitating the water to prevent it from freezing, and others in breaking the ice, which was formed from time to time in spite of all the precautions of their comrades; and in drawing it out of the bed of the river. This troublesome work lasted about three weeks, after which finding that the cold continually increased, and that it would at length get the better of them, they yielded up the victory, and desisted from an enterprize the most daring that ever was. It cost its principal author only one year's income of his salary : a punishment light enough in a country like this, where it is always a capital crime for persons to be found incapable, or even under an impossibility of performing, what they have had the boldness to promise the Emperor : and where it costs him so little to take off their heads. The barks then were declared useless, and it was concluded to substitute sledges in their stead. But all this while they had been working with incredible diligence at the embellishments that were to decorate the way by which the Empress-mother was to pass. And these were nearly what I am going to describe. 

On the two banks of the river were creeled buildings of different forms. Here was a house either square, triangular, or polygon[1], with all its apartments. There was a rotunda or some other edifice of a similar kind. As one went along, others appeared, whose construction (varied in a hundred different manners) engaged, amused and charmed the fight, wherever one fixed it. In such places as the river, by growing wider, had departed from a right line, were built houses of wood supported by pillars fixed in the water, and which appeared above its surface, some two feet, and others three or four, or even higher, according to the plan of the Chinese architect. The greatest part of these buildings formed islands, the passage to which was over bridges built for that purpose. There were some intirely detached and separate, others were contiguous, and had a communication between them by covered galleries, built much in the same manner as the houses and bridges which I have described above. All these edifices were gilt and embellished in the most splendid taste of the country. They were every one devoted to a particular use. In some were bands of music : in others companies of comedians; in the greatest part were refreshments and magnificent thrones to receive the Emperor and his mother, supposing they should have an inclination to stop and rest themselves there for a few moments. 

In the city was another sight still finer in its kind, than that I have been describing. From the western gate, by which the court was to make its entrance, to the gate of the place, there were nothing but superb buildings, peristyles [2], pavilions, colonnades, galleries, amphitheatres, with trophies and other works of Chinese architecture, all equally splendid. These were embellished with festoons, garlands, and many other ornaments of a similar kind, which being composed of the finest silk of different colours, afforded a charming sight. Gilding, mock-diamonds, and other stones of the same kind, glittered on all sides. A large quantity of mirrours[3], made of metal highly polished, greatly added to the shew. Their construction and arrangement, by multiplying objects on all sides, and re-assembling them in miniature, formed every thing that could enchant the eyes. 

These brilliant edifices were interrupted from time to time by artificial mountains and valleys, made in imitation of nature, which one would have taken for agreeable deserts and for real places of the most delightful solitude. They had contrived brooks and fountains, had planted trees and thickets, and stuck on deer, to which they had given attitudes so natural, that one would have said they were alive. Upon the summits or declivities of some of these mountains, were seen Bonzaries or Chinese convents with their little temples and idols, to which they had made little paths. In other places they had made orchards and gardens. 

In the greatest part of these were seen vines with their tendrils and clutters, in different degrees of maturity. In others were planted all forts of trees, so as to exhibit the fruits and flowers of the four seasons of the year. They were not to be distinguished from the true ones, altho' they were only artificial. 

This was not all. In diverse places by which the procession was to pass, they had distributed lakes, meres, and reservoirs with their several kinds of fish and aquatic fowls. In other places they had set children disguised like apes and other animals, who acted the several parts assigned them. As these were cloathed in the very skins of the animals they were to represent, the deception was compleat. Other children were made to resemble birds and fowls, and acted their parts upon pillars or lofty poles. These poles and pillars were covered with pieces of silk, which concealed men underneath : whose business it was to put the children stationed above in motion. In other places they had laid fruits of an enormous size, in which they had also inclosed children. These fruits opened from time to time, so far as to shew the spectators what they contained. I am not able to inform you, reverend father, whether there was any symbolical meaning in all this, or whether it was merely the production of a whimsical and extravagant fancy. The bands of music, tire companies of comedians, jugglers, and others, were placed at intervals, all along the side of the river, and endeavoured every one, according to his ability, his skill, and his address, to do something which might please, if not the Emperor and his mother, at least some of the grandees of their retinue, into whose service they might hope to be admitted. 

The Mandarines of each tribunal had a particular building which they had caused to be erected, and embellished at their own expence : the same had the Governors of each province, the Princes of the blood, and the other grandees of the empire. The variety of lanthorns and their arrangement formed an appearance, which merits a description apart. But as you have had described to you, on many occasions, the Chinese lanthorns, the manner in which they are made, and the ornaments, with which they are decorated, I mail refer you to those books wherein they are mentioned. 

When once these. works began to be brought to some degree of perfection, very strict orders were issued out, that no person of any quality or condition soever, should presume to smoak tobacco in the streets so newly adorned. This precaution appeared necessary to prevent any accident which might have happened from fire. The police or good government that was observed upon this occasion, as well as during the whole preparations of this festival, appeared to me admirable. Some weeks before the day of ceremony, a regulation was made, that the streets (which are here extremely wide) should be divided into three parts, in order that foot passengers, and those on horseback, the comers and goers, in a word that prodigious multitude of people, which was then assembled in the capital, might all enjoy this fine fight at their case. The middle of the street, which was much larger than the two sides, was set apart for those on horseback or such as had equipages: one of the sides, for those who went; and the other for those that came. To make this order observed, it was not necessary to plant grenadiers with bayonets at the end of their musquets, or with drawn swords in their hands, who would threaten to strike all that disobeyed. A few soldiers simply armed with whips, prevented all disorder and confusion. Thus thousands saw at their leisure in the space of a few hours, what could not have been seen in a fortnight, without this precaution. 

But, as it is not usual in this country for the women to go abroad or mix with the men, and on the other hand it would have been unreasonable to have excluded them from a mew, that was exhibited in honour of a person of their own sex, the Emperor provided for both these difficulties by appointing certain days for them alone. During these days, no man was permitted to appear in the streets ; and in effect none did appear. By these means every body was content, and satisfied his curiosity without violating any of their national rites, and without the least offence to decorum, 

Another thing, which deserves to be remarked, is the choice that was made of a hundred old men, which were supposed to be fetched from the different provinces of the empire, and to be aged every one of them a hundred years. The most aged were not fought out for this purpose (for the Emperor here gives years at his pleasure) but only those, whose beards were whitest, longest and most venerable. These old men were uniformly cloathed, and carried upon their bellies a long medal of silver, upon which were engraved characters, that signified the province they represented. These old men were called in the Chinese language, Pe-lao-King-cheon that is, "The hundred old men, who pay homage to her Majesty, and wish her as many years of life, as they have among them." 

The ancient sages or immortals, as the Chinese call them[4], to the number of three times eight, were required alfo to fwell the Empress's triumph, and to wish her their own wisdom and immortality : for this purpose their statues, somewhat above the human size, were placed not far from the outward gate of the palace. They had given them different figures and attitudes, doubtless to express the particular virtues of which they were the symbols, or which were supposed to have been most esteemed by these sages. 

All the preparations being finished, and the Emperor fearing, that in spite of all the precautions he could take, some fire would happen, which it might be difficult to extinguish, and which might reduce the whole city to ashes, would have the ceremony begin : It accordingly commenced five days before the Empress-mother had attained her sixtieth year. The order was immediately issued out and executed on the 20th day of the nth moon in the 16th year of the reign of the Emperor Kien-long, that is to say, according to our style, on January the sixth 1752. 

I shall tell you nothing of the procession or of the order in which it was conducted, because I saw nothing of that myself. Upon these occasions, and indeed whenever the Emperor goes abroad, every one shuts himself up in his house, and none are suffered (except such whose station and place requires it) to cast their rash glances upon the person of the Prince. I was only told, that the Emperor preceded his Mother a sew paces, and waited on her, as her SQUIRE. This Prince when he came off the water mounted on horseback, and the Empress was put in a chaise open on all sides. All the persons of their court followed them on foot. Their Majesties stopped from time to time, to examine at their leisure, whatever pleased them most. 

The very same evening they began to pull down the machinery; and in a few days, every thing was demolished that had been set up in the city t but the Emperor would not let them meddle with any thing that was upon the water or along the borders of the river. He ordered this to be preserved as a monument of the magnificence of his reign. 

Among the prefents, which were made upon this occasion, was seen every thing that is most rare and curious in the four parts of the world. The Europeans did not neglect so fair an opportunity to recommend themselves. As such of these, as are at court, are received there only in the quality of mathematicians and artists, they were desirous that their present should be answerable to these titles, and yet correspond with the Emperor's taste. They made therefore a machine, of which the following is a pretty exact description. A theatre in the shape of a half circle about three feet high, presented in its bosom paintings of a very delicate taste. This theatre had three scenes on each side, containing every one a particular design painted in perspective. In the center was a statue clad in the Chinese fashion, holding in its hands an inscription, in which a most long and fortunate life was wished to the Emperor. This was done in three words, Vouan-nien-hoan. Before each scene were Chinese statues, who held in their left hands, little basons of gilt copper, and in their right, little hammers of the same metal. This theatre, such as I have been describing, was supposed to be built by the water side. The fore part represented a mere or sea, or rather a bason, from which sprung up a jet d'eau which fell back again in the form of a cascade: a plate of looking glass represented the bason ; and threads of glass blown at a lamp by a man very dexterous at that business, were so fine and delicate, and imitated so well a jet d'eau, that at a small distance they might have been mistaken for it. Around the bason they had marked a dial plate with European and Chinese characters. A goose and two ducks were made sporting in the middle of the water. The two ducks muddled with their beaks, and the goose marked with hers the present hour. The whole moved by springs, which at the same time formed the movements of the clock, that was in the machine. A loadstone, which was likewise concealed and which moved round the dial plate, drew after it the goose, the greatest part of which was of iron. When the hour was upon the point of striking, the statue which held the inscription in its hand, came forth from an apartment in the center of the theatre, and with a profound reverence shewed the legend; afterwards the six other statues played a musical air, by striking, every one upon his bason, the note which had been assigned him, as often and in such a time, as the music required. This ended, the figure that bore the inscription returned back with great gravity, to wait for the ensuing hour. This machine pleased the Emperor so much, that he was desirous to testify his gratitude to the Europeans for it. In return he made them a present, which was at lead an equivalent for the expence they had been at in its construction. The honour which he thereby did us is much more valuable than the greatest riches. He caused it to be placed in one of those apartments of the palace which he frequents the oftenest : and it is there preferred with great care to this day. 

The Emperor made presents to all the Mandarines of the capital in recompence for the care and pains they had taken about these solemnities. All the women of the empire that were eighty years old and upwards, partook likewise of his liberality. The sum of money was more or less considerable in proportion to their age. It is computed that the expence of this festival, reckoning as well what was laid out by the Emperor as by the different corporations and private persons, amounted to more than three hundred million [of livres.] 

[What follows in this letter, as relating only to the private affairs of the mission, I shall here omit, with reserve only of one paragraph ; which, as it may be satisfactory to know upon what footing the missionaries continue at present in China, I shall here retain.] 

“Although the Christian religion remains still proscribed the Chinese empire, we nevertheless at Pe-king continue to exercise our ministry with great freedom within our own houses, or even abroad, observing certain precautions. Divine service is performed in our churches every Sunday, as in the most regular parishes. Christians come there continually with all freedom. They sing there hymns in the Chinese tongue, they hear sermon and assist at high mass, which is sung with all the solemnity that could be observed in Europe. We have particular congregations for the most fervent Christians : Congregations of the holy sacrament, of the heart of JESUS, of the holy virgin : and the congregation of penance in particular, whole object is to do penance not only for their own fins, but also for those of others, and TO DEMAND OF GOD BY THEIR SATISFACTORY WORKS (de demander a Dieu par fes ocuvres satisfactoires) that he will suffer himself to be softened in favour of so many infidels, who are ignorant of and blaspheme his holy name. 

Upon this passage we shall only make two reflections. The one is, that notwithstanding the piteous outcries which the Jesuits have made of persecution and martyrdom for the cause of the gospel, in the late proscription their religion hath undergone in China, there is reason, to believe, what the Emperor YONG-CHING, (who banished them) constantly affirmed, that they were not expelled for the sake of their religion, but because the Chinese laws do not allow of the promiscuous intercourse of foreigners, nor of the omission of certain rites, which are deemed essential to the welfare of the state. 

Again, we learn from hence what a kind of Christianity the Jesuits propagate in China ; who instead of the all sufficient sacrifice, at tenement and satisfaction made far the sins of the whole world by JESUS on the cross, have substituted the scourgings &c. of a few frantic bigots, as a sufficient attonement and satisfaction for themselves and others. A doctrine which without any difficulty would be admitted by the Chinese, who maintain thousands of Bonzees, on this very account, that their sins and vices may be expiated by the voluntary sufferings of those gentry. Not to mention what ideas it must give of the DEITY: to suppose him so cruel as to delight in the voluntary tortures of bis creatures ; and so inexorable as to have that mercy extorted from him only by their sufferings, which he will net grant for the salvation of mankind. 


[1]i. e. of many angles. 
[2]A peristyle is a circular range of pillars, Any cries of pillars is a colonnade.
[3]The Chinese mirrours are not of glass but polished metal. See P. Du Halde. 
[4] The Translator hath omitted their Chinese titles, &C.