A DESCRIPTION OF THE EMPEROR OF CHINA'S GARDENS AND PLEASURE-HOUSES NEAR PE - KING,
In a Letter from Frere Attiret, of the Society of Jesus, Painter to the Emperor of China, to Monsieur d' Asaut.
Pe-king, November i. 1743.
I Received with the greatest pleasure your two letters : the first dated October the thirteenth ; the other November the second, 1742. Our missionaries, to whom I communicated the interesting account you give us of the principal events in Europe, join with me in sincere acknowledgments for the fame. I must also return you thanks for the box you sent me, filled with works in straw, grains, and flowers : but beg you will not put yourself to such expense any more. The Chinese far excel Europeans in works of this kind, and especially in artifical flowers.
I must now complain of you ; you think, fir, my letters not frequent enough : but, if I can trust my memory, I have writ to you every year since my departure from Macao. It is not then my fault, if you have not annually heard from me. In so long a passage is it surprizing that letters should miscarry ? From this place to Canton, where European vessels come, the distance is above seven hundred leagues, and it happens more than once every year that letters are lost;. The post in China only belongs to the Emperor and the great officers: the public has no right to employ it. Not but the post-boy secretly and for a premium, will take charge of private letters: but the carriage must be paid before-hand, and if he finds himself over-loaded, he will burn them or throw them away, without any danger of being called to account for it.
In the next place, you think my letters too short, and would not have me refer you, as I do, to the books, which treat of Chinese manners and customs. But is it in my power to give you better or more exact accounts than you have already? I am but lately arrived; and it is with difficulty I stammer out a few Chinese words. If it only related to .painting, I flatter my self I could talk a little to the purpose: but if, out of complaisance to you, I should hazard an answer to all your questions, should not I run a risque of misinforming you ? I see notwithstanding that you will be obeyed at all events. I (hall resist no longer, but following the order of your questions, as contained in your two last letters, shall answer them as well as I can, with my accustomed frankness and simplicity.
I shall, in the first place, mention my journey from Macao to Pe-king, for that is the subject of your first question. We came hither by the Emperor's order, or rather by his permission. An officer was assigned to conduct us; we were made to believe that our expences would have been defrayed us, but we found this nothing but words; we in a good measure came at our own expense. Half the journey was performed in barks. It is the custom to eat and sleep in these ; and, what is very singular, people of the better rank dare not go ashore, nor place themselves at the windows of their bark, to see the country through which they pass, for fear of violating the rules of decorum. The rest of the way we were carried in a kind of a cage, which they would have pass for a litter. In this one is enclosed during the whole day; in the evening the litter enters an inn, such. as it is ; so that we arrived at Pe-king without having seen any thing at all and our curiosity was no more satisfied, than if we had all the while been shut up in a chamber.
Besides this, the whole face of the country, which lies upon this road, is but very indifferent, and although it is a journey of fix or seven hundred leagues, nothing occurs worthy attention : one fees neither monuments nor edifices, except a few Miao or idol-temples, which are wooden buildings one story high, whose value and beauty only consist in some bad paintings and very coarse varnish. In truth, whoever hath seen the monuments and edifices in France and Italy, can only regard with indifference and contempt every thing that is to be seen elsewhere.
I must nevertheless except from this censure the Emperor's palace at Pe-king and his houses of pleasure: for in these every thing is grand and truly fine, as well with regard to the design, as execution : and I am so much the more struck with these, as nothing like any part of them hath ever before offered itself to my eyes.
I would willingly attempt such a description as might give you a just notion of these structures: but the undertaking would be too difficult, because they contain nothing that bears the least resemblance to our manner of building, or that has any relation to our architecture. Nothing but the eye can convey a true idea of them ; and therefore, if I have time, I will not fail to send to Europe a draught of some parts of them as well executed as I can.
The palace, which is as large as the city of Dijon, consists in general of many ranges of building detached from each other, disposed in beautiful symmetry, and separated by vast courts, by gardens and parterres. The front of all these buildings shines with gilding, varnish and paint. The inside is furnished and set off with every thing that is most beautiful and precious in China, the Indies and in Europe.
With regard to the houses of pleasure, they are indeed charming. They are distributed over a large tract of ground, in which have been raised by art many little mountains, from twenty to fifty and sixty feet high, these form a prodigious number of little valleys. The bottoms of these valleys are watered by canals of clear water, which unite together in many places to form lakes and meres. One fails upon these canals, these meres and lakes, in beautiful and magnificent barks. I have seen one of these which was twenty-fix yards in length and eight in breadth, upon which was a superb building. In each of the valleys, upon the banks of the waters, are edifices of many ranges of building, completely set off with courts, open and private galleries, gardens, parterres, cascades, and which when seen all together have an admirable appearance.
The passage out of these valleys is not by fine alleys or walks in right lines as in Europe, but zig-zag and winding, adorned on each side with little pavilions and grottoes, and leading to some second valley quite different from the former, as well in the disposition of the ground, as in the manner of the buildings.
All the mountains and little hill are covered with trees, especially with those kinds that produce beautiful flowers, which are here [in China] very common. It is indeed a terrestrial paradise. The canals are not, as with us, edged with hewn stone a and in a straight line: but all rustic with pieces of rock, of which Tome Hand forward, others retire, and which are disposed with so much art, that one would say it was all the work of nature. One while the canal is wide, another while narrow : here it is serpentine, there it elbows out; as if it were really forced into that direction by the little hills and rocks. The borders are sprinkled with flowers, which spring forth from amid the stones, and which appear to be the spontaneous gift of nature: of these are different forts adapted to the several seasons of the year.
Along the sides of the canals, are every where paths paved with little flints, which lead from one valley to another. These paths wind also in a serpentine direction ; one while verging upon the borders of the streams, another while withdrawing from them.
As soon as you enter one of the valleys, its buildings present themselves to the eye. All the front is crowded with columns and windows : the timber-work, is gilt, painted and varnished: the walls are of grey bricks nicely cut and polished : the roofs are covered with varnished tiles, red, yellow, blue, green and violet, which by their mixture and arrangement make an agreeable variety of compartments and designs, The buildings are almost all but one story high, and are elevated two, four, fix or eight feet from the ground. Some of them have a second story. The ascent to them is not by steps of stone polished by art: but by pieces of rock., made to appear, as if they were steps formed by nature. They resemble nothing so much as those fabulous palaces of the fairies, which are supposed to be seated in the midst of a desert, on some craggy rock, whose ascent is rugged and goes winding up by degrees.
The apartments within answer perfectly to the magnificence of the outside. Besides that they are extremely well distributed; the moveables and ornaments are of an exquisite taste and of immense value. In the courts and passages are seen vases of marble porcelain and brass, rilled with flowers. Before some of these houses, instead of immodest statues, are placed upon marble, pedestals ( the figures) of symbolical animals in bronze or copper, as also urns for burning perfumes.
Every valley, as I have already said, hath its house of pleasure : small, with regard to the whole enclosure ; but yet in itself considerable enough to lodge one of our greatest lords in Europe, with all his retinue. Many of these houses are built of cedar, brought with great expense at the distance of 500 leagues from this place. But how many of these palaces would you suppose there are in the several valleys of this vast enclosure ? There are more than two hundred ; without reckoning as many other houses for the eunuchs; for they are the persons, who have charge of each palace, and their lodgings are always on one side at some small distance. These are plain and ordinary enough, and for that reason are always concealed by the end of some wall, by some little hill, or the like.
The canals are crossed by bridges at proper distances, to render the communication between one place and another easy. These bridges are commonly of brick or hewn stone: but are some of them of wood, and all sufficiently elevated to leave free passage under for the barks.
They are guarded with balustrades of white marble curiously wrought and sculptured in bas-relief: but are all of different construction from each other. You are not to imagine that these bridges run in right lines: far from it; they are made so winding and serpentine, that a bridge, which if it were extended in a straight direction would not exceed thirty or forty feet; by its contours and turnings shall be found to reach above two hundred. There are some, which either in the middle, or at the end, have little pavilions by way of resting- places, supported by four, eight, or sixteen columns. These pavilions are generally creeled on such bridges, as stand in the most advantageous points of view. Others have at the two ends triumphal arches of wood or white marble, of most beautiful structure, but extremely unlike any thing we are accustomed to see in Europe.
I have said above, that the canals and rivers discharge their streams into lakes and meres. There is one of these lakes, that is near half a league diameter every way, to which they have given the name of Sea. It forms one of the most beautiful scenes in the whole enclosure. Around this piece of water, are seen upon the banks, at easy distances, great ranges of building, separated from one another by the canals, and by those artificial mountains, which have been described above.
But what is really the jewel of the whole, is an island or rock, which riles out of the middle of this lake in a rugged and wild manner, about two yards above the surface of the water. Upon this rock is built a little palace; which yet contains more than a hundred apartments. It hath four fronts, and for beauty and taste, exceeds all description. The prospect is admirable. From hence one sees all the palaces, which are placed in the intervals round the edges of this water; all the mountains, which there terminate; all the canals, which there either receive or discharge their streams; all the bridges, which are at the extremities, or mouths of these canals; all the pavilions or triumphal arches which adorn these bridges ; all the little woods or clumps which separate or cover all the palaces, in order to prevent those which are situate on the same side from being seen from each other.
The borders of this charming lake are infinitely varied. No one spot resembles another : here are quays of hewn stone, on which are galleries, walks and paths. There are quays of rude pebbles, formed into a kind of steps with all imaginable arts or else beautiful terraces, having on each side a step to mount to the buildings, which they support; and beyond these terraces, are erected others, with new ranges of buildings in the form of amphitheaters. In another place presents itself a wood of such trees, as bear flowers : a little farther you find a thicket of wild trees, such as only grow on the most desert mountains. Here are trees of the most lofty and towering kinds, and those used in building. There are foreign trees, trees in blossom, and fruit trees.
One finds also upon the banks of this lake, a great number of cages and pavilions, half in the water and -half on land, for all forts of water fowls 5 as upon land one meets from time to time with little menageries and parks for game. Above all there is held in the highest esteem a kind of golden fish: being covered almost all over with a colour mining like gold ; not but there are found a great number of silver, blue, red, green, violet, black and speckled ones : and even of all these colours mixed together. There are many reservoirs all over the garden, but this is the most considerable : a great part of it is surrounded with a very fine grate of brass wire to prevent these fish from spreading themselves promiscuously all over the water,
To make you more sensible of the entire beauty of this single spot, I wish I could transport you there, when the lake is covered with the barks finely gilt and varnished, rowing either for pleasure or exercise, or for the purpose of fishing, or for mock-encounters, tilting and other sports ; but above all in a fine night, when they play off fire-works, and when all the palaces, all the barks, and almost all the trees are illuminated. For in illuminations and fire-works the Chinese leave us far behind them; and the little I have seen infinitely surpasses whatever I have beheld of this kind in Italy and France.
The place where the Emperor commonly resides, and where his women reside also, as well the Empress, as the inferior wives and concubines, together with the women of the bedchamber and the eunuchs, is a vast assemblage of buildings, courts and gardens, &c. In a word it is a city, at least as large as our little city of Dole. The other palaces are only used for walking, or to dine and sup in.
This place of the Emperor's ordinary residence is immediately behind the outward gates, the first halls, the halls of audience, the courts and the gardens thereunto belonging. It forms an island, being surrounded on all sides by a wide and deep canal. It may be called a seraglio. It is in the apartments of this building, that you may see every thing that can be conceived most beautiful as to moveables, ornaments, paintings, (I mean in the Chinese taste) precious woods, Japanese and Chinese varnish, antique vases of porcelain, silks, and cloth of gold and silver. They have here brought together every thing, which art and good taste can add to the riches of nature.
From this part of the palace there is a path leads almost straight along to a little city built in the very center of the whole enclosure. Its extent is a quarter of a league every way. It hath four gates facing the four cardinal points, with towers, walls, parapets and battlements. This city hath streets, squares, temples, halls, markets, mops, tribunals, palaces, and a port or harbour. In short, every thing which is to be found in large in the capital of the empire may be found here in miniature.
You will naturally ask, for what use was this city designed, where every thing is so contracted ? Is it for a place of safety, whither the Emperor may retire, in case of any misfortune, as in a revolt or revolution? It may be applied to this use, and the person that built it may have had this view in erecting it. But the principal design of it was, to give the Emperor the pleasure of seeing in miniature, as oft as he pleases, all the hurry and bustle of a great city.
An Emperor of China is too much a slave to his grandeur to shew himself to his people when he goes abroad. He sees nothing of them himself. The houses and mops are all shut up. Pieces of cloth are every where hung up to prevent his being seen. Many hours before he sets our, no one is suffered to appear on the road, and this under pain of being severely treated by the guards. When he marches out of the city, into the country, two bodies of horse advance at a considerable distance on each the road, as well to clear it of all passengers, as for the security of the prince's person. Obliged thus to live in a kind of solitude, the Emperors of China have always endeavoured to make themselves amends, and to supply by one means or other, the want of those public diversions, which their grandeur prevents them from enjoying.
This city then, under the reign of the present Emperor, as well as under that of his father, who caused it to be built, has been set apart in order for the eunuchs to represent, as they do several times in the year, all the traffic, all the marketings, all the arts, trades, tumults, all the going, and coming, and even all the rogueries of great cities. Upon certain days appointed for that purpose, every eunuch takes the habit of the rank and profession assigned him. One is a merchant, another an artisan; this is a soldier, that is an officer. One is set to roll a wheelbarrow, another to carry a basket upon his moulders; in short every one hath the distinct badge of his profession. The vessels arrive at the port; the shops are opened, the merchandises are exposed to sale : one quarter is for silk, another for cloth; one street is for porcelain, another for works of varnish. Every thing is properly distributed. This man deals in household furniture : that in cloaths, and ornaments for ladies: a third in books for the curious and learned. There are taverns for tea; others for wine: and public houses for people of all ranks. There are people who hawk about the streets fruits and refreshments of all forts. The mercers catch you by the sleeve, and press you to buy some of their ware. All freedoms are allowed. The Emperor is hardly to be distinguished from the lowest of his subjects. Every one gives notice what he has to sell : they quarrel and fight : there is all the real tumult and disturbance of a fair. The officers come and seize the quarrelers: who are carried before the judges in their tribunals. These examine and pass sentence: the offenders are condemned to undergo the bastonado : it is put in execution , and sometimes to please the Emperor the jest is turned into earnest.
There is no want of sharpers and pickpockets upon these occasions. This noble employment is committed to a good number of the most dexterous eunuchs, who acquit themselves to admiration. If they are caught in the fact, they are brought to shame and punished : or at least they are condemned in outward appearance, either to be branded, or bastonadoed, or banished, according to the heinousness of the offence and nature of the theft. If they are dexterous at their business, they have the laugh on their side ; they are applauded, and the poor merchant can have no redress. Every thing however is restored, when the fair is over.
This fair, as I said above, is only kept for the entertainment of the Emperor, the Empress, and his other ladies, h is very rare that any of the princes or grandees are admitted to be present at it, and if they are admitted, it is only when the women are withdrawn. The goods, which are exposed to sale upon this occasion, are, for the most part, the property of the merchants at Pe-king, who get the eunuchs to sell them for them : thus their traffic is not altogether feigned and in jest. The Emperor always lays out a good deal of money upon this occasion, and there is no doubt but they take care to sell to him as dear as they can. The court ladies on their part buy a great many things, and the eunuchs the same. All this traffic, if there were not something real in it, would have nothing to interest them, without which their squabbles would want life and spirit, and not give half the pleasure.
To commerce sometimes succeeds husbandry : there is in the fame enclosure a quarter appropriated to that use. There are to be seen fields, meadows, farm-houses, and the cottages of labourers: there you may meet with every thing proper for agriculture; oxen, ploughs, and other implements of husbandry : there they sow corn, rice, pulse, and all forts of grain. They mow : and gather the fruits of their labour. In short, whatever is done in the country is practiced there, and in every thing they imitate, as nearly as possible, the rural simplicity and plain manners of a country life.
You have doubtless read that there is a famous festival observed in China called The feast of lanthorm: it is annually celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first moon. There is no Chinese so poor and miserable, but what lights up his lanthorn on this day. These are made and fold of all figures, sizes, and prices. On this day all China is illuminated ; but no part of the illumination is so fine, as in the quarter belonging to the Emperor, and especially in the house, which I have described above. There is not a chamber, hall, or gallery, but what exhibits many lanthorns hanging from the ceiling. All the canals and basons are illuminated with them, where they float upon the water in the manner of little barks.
All the mountains, bridges, and almost all the trees, are set off with them. They are of the mod fine and delicate workmanship ; in the shapes of fifties, birds, beads, vases, fruits, flowers and barks, of all sizes: they are made of silk, horn, glass, mother-of-pearl, and many other kinds of materials. There are some of them painted, others embroidered, and of all prices. I have seen lanthorns, which could not have been made for a thousand crowns. I should never have done, if I were to describe to you all their forms, materials and ornaments. It is in these and in the great variety of their building, that I admire the fertility of their genius in comparison of which, I am almost tempted to look upon our own, as poor and barren.
Indeed their eyes are so accustomed to their own architecture, that they have no relish for our manner of building. Would you know what they say of it, when we describe it to them, or when we mew them prints of our palaces? They are frighted at the vast and lofty fronts of our edifices ; they look upon our streets as hollow-ways through hideous mountains; and our houses, as rocks whose summits are out of sight, and whose bottoms are pierced through with dens, like the habitations of bears and other savage beasts. Our different stories, raised one upon another, appear to them intolerable ; they cannot conceive how we can like to risk the breaking our necks a hundred times a day, in mounting a stair-case up to the fourth or fifth story. “Certainly,” said the Emperor Cang-hi, upon the sight of some plans of European houses, “this” Europe must be a very small and " wretched country, since there is not " room enough on the ground to extend their cities, and the people are " obliged to take up their lodging in " the air." For our parts, we think differently and with reason.
Nevertheless I will confess to you, without pretending to decide which ought to have the preference, that the manner of building in this country pleases me much. Since I have been in China, my eyes and taste are become in some degree Chinese. Every country hath its peculiar taste and customs. The beauty of our architecture cannot be disputed : nothing can be so grand and majestic. It must be allowed that our houses are convenient. We require a uniformity and symmetry in every part of our buildings : that nothing be unmatched or displaced : that one piece exactly answer that which faces or is opposite to it : nor are they in China altogether averse to the same symmetry, order and arrangement. The pa- lace at Pe-king, (of whicfi I have ipoken at the beginning of this letter) is in this taste. The palaces of the princes of the blood, and of the great lords, the tribunals, and the houses of the more wealthy private inhabitants, fol- low the same rule.
But in the houses of pleasure, they chuse there should appear only a beautiful disorder, All turns upon this principle: " It is a rural landscape, (they “say) a face of nature, that we would “ represent, a solitude, and not a palace " laid out in all the rules of symmetry " and proportion." Conformably to this, I have never seen any two of these little palaces, though placed at a great distance from each other in the enclosure of the Emperor's pleasure ground that have any resemblance. One would be apt to say, that each of them is made according to the ideas and model of some foreign country; that the whole was thrown together at random, and that one part was not made for another. When you hear this described, you will imagine all this to be ridiculous, and that it must make a disagreeable appearance. But were you to see it, you would alter your opinion, and admire the art with which this irregularity is conducted. The whole is in good taste and so well disposed, that all the beauty of it is not to be perceived at first fight. You must examine every piece by itself, and then you would find enough to amuse you for a long time, and fully satisfy your curiosity.
After all, these palaces (tho' I call them little) are not trifling inconsiderable things, I saw them build one last year in the same enclosure, which cost one of the princes of the blood, a cousin German of the Emperor's, sixty wanes [near two hundred thousand pounds:] without speaking of the ornaments and furniture withinside, which were not bought at his expense.
I shall add one word more concerning the admirable variety, which reigns in these houses of pleasure. This variety is seen not only in the situation, appearance, arrangement, distribution, size, elevation, and number of parts of of each of these buildings considered as a whole, but also in the lesser parts of which each of these particulars is composed. If I had not come here, I should never have seen so many different forms of doors and windows: you have them round, oval, square, and polygons of all kinds; as also in the shapes of fans, flowers, vases, birds, beads, and fifties: in short of all figures both regular and irregular.
I believe it is only in this country that one sees such galleries (or porticos) as I am going to describe to you. They serve to join together such different ranges of building, as are at a considerable distance from each other. These are sometimes raised in the manner of pilasters on the side towards the house, but are pierced through with windows of different shapes on the other side : sometimes both sides are in the form of pilasters; such are all those which go from any of the palaces to one of those open pavilions, which are built for the convenience of taking the air.
What is remarkable is, that these galleries never go in a straight line. They make a hundred windings, one while behind a grove, another while behind a rock, again another while round a little bafon or piece of water. Nothing can be more agreeable. The whole hath a rural air, which enchants and ravishes the beholder.
You will certainly conclude, from what I have said, that this house of pleasure must have cost immense sums; in effect no prince in the world, unless he were master of so vast an empire as this of China, could either afford to be at such an expense, or execute such prodigious undertakings in so short a time. For this palace was a work of twenty years only. It was the Emperor's father, who began it, and the present Monarch only now and then enlarges and embellishes it.
But there is nothing in this that ought to surprise you or appear incredible. For, besides that the buildings are almost all but of one story high; they send what numbers of workmen they please. The business is as good as done when once the materials are brought to the place. They immediately fall to disposing them in order, and after a few months labour, the work is finished. One can compare them to nothing, but those fabulous palaces, which are formed of a sudden by enchantment in some beautiful valley, or on the brow of some mountain.
To proceed, this house of pleasure is called Yven-ming-yven, that is to say, The garden of gardens, or The garden by way of excellence. It is not the only one, which the Emperor has. He has three others in the same taste, but less than this, and not so beautiful. In one of these three palaces resides the Empress mother, with all her court; this was built by the Emperor's grandfather Cang-hi, and is called Chang-chun-yven, that is to say, The garden of eternal spring. Those belonging to the princes and great lords, are in little, what these of the Emperor are in great.
Perhaps you will say, To what purpose is this long description? It were better to draw plans of this magnificent palace, and send them into Europe. To have done this, would have taken me up at least three years, without attempting any thing else : whereas I have not a moment to myself, and am obliged to borrow from sleep the time I employ in writing to you now. Besides, for this purpose, I ought to have had free access to the gardens, as oft as I chose it, with leave to remain there, as long as was necessary. it is well for me that I have acquired some skill in painting: but for this I might, like many other Europeans, have lived twenty or thirty years at Pe-king, without ever setting foot within this charming place.
There is but one man here, and that is the Emperor. All pleasures are made for him alone. This superb house of pleasure is only seen by himself, his women and his eunuchs ; it is but seldom that his princes or grandees are admitted into his gardens, or even his palaces, farther than the halls of audience. Of all the Europeans which are here, it is only the painters and clock-makers, that have ever access to these retirements : and their employments necessarily procure them admittance every where. The place, where we commonly paint, is one of those little palaces, which I have described above: and there the Emperor comes to see us work almost every day, so that there is no possibility of being absent. But we are not admitted farther, unless what we have to paint cannot be conveyed to us, and then we are conducted to the place under a large escort of eunuchs. We are obliged to march quick and without noise, upon tip-toe, as if we were going to commit a theft. In this manner I have seen and gone over this whole delightful garden : and in this manner I have entered all the apartments. The Emperor resides here about ten months every year. It is near as far from Pe-king, as from Failles to Paris. We spend the day in the garden, and dine there at the Emperor's expense : at night we retire to a house, which we have bought in a pretty large city or town, near the palace. When the Emperor goes back to the capital, we return with him, and then we are during the day within the palace, and at night we retire to our own [the French] church.
Thus, Sir, I have described a place which has not been mentioned in any printed account, and concerning which you had some reason to complain of my referring you thither. It only remains that I answer your queries on the other articles. You would know then, in what manner I was received by the Emperor ; upon what footing I am with him; what subjects I am employed in painting; what lodgings and provisions are assigned us ; how the missionaries are treated; whether they preach without interruption; whether the Chinese are permitted to profess the Christian religion, and lastly, what is the nature of the new brief, concerning the Chinese ceremonies, issued out by the holy see. Thus have you cut me out a good deal of work. I know not whether I shall have leisure to perform it all. I had better compound with you, and to reserve one half for the ensuing year.
I was received by the Emperor of China as well as a stranger can expect to be by a prince, who thinks himself the only sovereign in the world, who is bred up, so as to have no sensibility or feeling for any other being ; who looks upon any one, especially a stranger, as too happy, in being permitted to enter into his service and to work for him. For to be admitted into the Emperor's presence ; to see him often and to converse with him ; is to a Chinese the highest pitch of human felicity, the summum bonum. They would buy this favour at any price, if it were to be purchased. Judge then, if they may not well think me sufficiently rewarded for all my labours by being admitted to see him every day. It is indeed almost the only pay that I have received, if you except some little presents of silk and other things of small value; and even these come but seldom : it may well be thought then, that it was not profit that brought me to China, or that keeps me here. To tug at the oar from day to day ; to have scarce the Sundays or festivals left for my devotions; to paint nothing agreeably to my own taste or genius : to have a thousand other difficulties too long to explain : all this would quickly drive me back to Europe, if I did not think my pencil subservient to religion, and likely to render the Emperor favourable to the missionaries, who preach it : if I did not see paradise at the end of all my pains and labours. This is the only allurement, which retains me here, as well as all the other Europeans who are in the Emperor's service .
With regard to painting, except the portraits of the Emperor's brother and his wife, of some other princes and princesses of the blood, and of some of the Emperor's favourites, and great lords, I have painted nothing in the the European taste. I was obliged to forget, if I may so say, every thing I had formerly learnt, and to bring my hand to a new manner, in order to conform myself to the taste of this nation : so that I have been employed three fourths of my time, in painting, either in oil upon glass, or in water colours upon silk, fruits, birds, fishes and beasts of all kinds ; but, seldom according to the life. The portraits of the Emperor and Empress had been painted before my arrival by a brother of our order, named Castiglione, an Italian painter of great skill, with whom I pass a great part of my time.
Every subject that we undertake is prescribed us by the Emperor; who examines the designs, as soon as we have sketched them out, and makes us change and reform them as he pleases. Whether the correction is for the better or the worse, we must submit to it without remonstrance. Here the Emperor knows every thing, or at least flattery assures him he does, and perhaps he believes it ; for he always acts, as if he did.
We are here tolerably well lodged for persons of a religious order: our houses are as neat and commodious, as is confident with the strictness of out religious profession. In this respect, we have no reason to complain. Our provisions are not amiss and except in the article wine, our table is furnished much the same as in Europe. The Chinese drink a kind of wine made of rice, but it is disagreeable to the taste and prejudicial to the health : instead of this, we drink tea without sugar, which is our only beverage.
The subject of religion requires a better pen than mine. Under the Emperor's grandfather, Christianity was openly preached throughout the empire : there were in all the provinces a great number of missionaries of every order and country. Each had his district and church. They preached publicly in them, and the Chinese were freely permitted to embrace our religion.
After the death of this prince, his son expelled all the missionaries out of the provinces, confiscated their churches, and only allowed the Europeans to remain in the capital, as persons useful to the state by their skill in the mathematics and other arts and sciences. The reigning Emperor hath let things continue upon the farce footing, nor have we yet been able to obtain the least alteration in our favour.
Many of the missionaries, who were expelled, have secretly returned into the provinces: and others newly arrived have followed them in pretty large numbers. They keep themselves concealed there, as well as they can, they cultivate their missions, and do all the good in their power, taking proper precautions not to be discovered, and never performing their functions but by night.
As we are publicly tolerated in the capita], our missionaries there exercise their ministry without reserve. We have there three churches, one belonging to the French Jesuits, and two others belonging to the Jesuits of Portugal, Italy, German, &c. These churches are built after the European manner, beautiful, large, well ornamented and painted, and such as would do honour to the greatest cities of Europe. There is at Pe-king a very large number of Christians, who attend our churches with all freedom. We go into the city to say mass and administer the sacraments at proper times to the women, who, according to the laws of the country, are not permitted to go from home or to mix with men in the churches. The missionaries are indulged in this liberty at the capital, because the Emperor knows very well that the only motive which brings us hither is religion, and that if they shut up our churches and deprived the missionaries of the liberty of preaching and performing their functions, we would quickly quit China ; which is what he would not chuse. Such of our fathers as lurk in the provinces are not so thoroughly concealed, but that the Mandarins might detect them if they would : but they shut their eyes, because they know upon what footing we are received at the capital, If by mischance we would be sent away, the missionaries in the provinces would be soon discovered and sent after us. Our figure is too different from that of the Chinese to remain long unobserved.
With regard to the progress, which our religion makes here, I have already told you that we have three churches and two and twenty Jesuits; ten of the French nation in our French house, and twelve in the other houses, who are Portuguese, Italians and Germans. Of these twenty-two Jesuits seven are employed, like myself, in the Emperor's service. The others are priests, and consequently missionaries. They have under their care not only the mission established in the city of Pe-king, but also a district of forty or fifty leagues round, wherein they make from time to time apostolic excursions.
Besides these European fathers, there are also here five Chinese Jesuits, who have received priests orders, and go into houses and places, where an European cannot go without danger or indecorum. There are besides these in the several provinces between thirty and forty missionaries, reckoning Jesuits and others. Within this city and the district above-mentioned, our French house baptizes constantly every year between five and fix hundred grown persons, and about twelve or thirteen hundred infants belonging to infidel parents. Our Portuguese fathers, who are more numerous, than the French, baptize a greater number of idolaters: accordingly they reckon in this single province and in Tartary between twenty-five and thirty thousand Christians : whereas in our French mission we only reckon about five thousand.
I believe it is high time, fir, for the convenience of us both, that I should put an end to this letter, which has run out to a greater length than I at first intended. I wish it may afford you pleasure, and should be very glad if it were in my power to testify my perfect esteem for you by something more considerable. I can only offer up my prayers for you. I beg also to be remembered in yours; and am, with great respect, Sir,
Your most humble, and most obedient
servant, ATTIRET, Jesuit.
THE END OF THE DESCRIPTION,
The capital of Burgundy in France, some what more than three miles in circumference.
In the French original all their several titles are set down, The Kou-cy-Fey, the Fey, the Pin, the Cou-ci-gin, the Chang-tsai: and there is a note annexed to inform us that these are different titles of the Emperor's women, more or less grand, according as they are more or less in favour. The name of the Empress is Hoang-heou; that of the Empress-mother is Tay heou.
The capital of the Franche-Comple in France.
A 'wane' is equal to 1 0,000 taels : the tael is worth seven livres ten soh French money ; thus sixty 'wanes' make four millions and a half of livres. [N. B. A tael is by our merchants valued at 6s. 8d. so that sixty wanes, according to our computation, amount to 199,100l. sterling.
Cang-hi (whose father conquered China) began his reign in 1660 and died 1722. His son Yong-Tching, who succeeded him, died in 1735. When his grandson Kien-Long the present Emperor began his reign.
About ten English miles.
The protestant reader will remember that it is a Jesuit here who tells his own story, and whatever his real motives are, will take care that none but the most plausible shall appear to the world. Other writers who have examined into the conduct of these gentlemen more narrowly, will tell a very different tale, for which I need only refer the reader to the accounts of some of their brother missionaries. See a curious collection of tracts entitled, " Caufa Sinensis seu varia scripta de cultibus Sinarum, &c. oblata Inno centio XII. Colonize 1700. 8vo. See also chancellor Mosheim's tract printed at the beginning of this volume.
After this follows a paragraph, wherein the writer assures his correspondent of the implicit obedience paid by the Jesuit missionaries to the see of Rome, which, the impartial Reader, who considers the facts produced in the Memoirs at the beginning of this volume, will not be over hasty in believing.
It is customary with the Chinese, when they have more children than they can conveniently bring up, to expose their new-born infants in the streets, leaving them to perish : the missionaries baptize such of these as they find not quite dead.
In the original are four pages more, wherein the writer gives an account of the miraculous recovery of a young Chinese woman, who after having been at the point of death, and given over, was, upon receiving baptism, wonderfully restored to health, which any person is at liberty to believe, if he pleases. But this and all such miracles every person of reflection will call in doubt, till the missionaries can shew signs, less equivocal, than the recovery of a few sick persons, such for instance as the gift of languages, which would be of infinite use to them in their foreign missions, and ought to be the first miracle they should lay claim to, if they would have us pay any regard to their pretension, or confider them as true followers of those apostles who certainly were possessed of it.