It was an awful crowd—Chinese, Minchia, Lolo, and other specimens of hybridism unknown to me. Yet I suppose the majority of them may be called happy. Certainly the simplicity of the life of the common people, their freedom from fastidious tastes, which are only a fetter in our own Western social life, their absolute independence of furniture in their homes, their few wants and perhaps fewer necessities, when contrasted with the demands of the Englishman, is to them a state of high civilization. Here were farmers, mechanics, shopkeepers, and retired people living a simple, unsophisticated life. All the strength of the world and all its beauties, all true joy, everything that consoles, that feeds hope, or throws a ray of light along our dark paths, everything that enables us to discern across our poor lives a splendid goal and a boundless future, comes to us from true simplicity. I do not say that we get all this from the Chinese, but in many ways they can teach us how to live in the spirit of simplicity. They were living from hand to mouth, with seemingly no anxieties at all—and yet, too, they were living without God, and with very little hope.
And here the foreigner re-appeared to disturb them. Even in Anning-cheo, only a day from the capital, I was regarded as a being of another species, and was treated with little respect. I was not wanted.
No international question has become more hackneyed than “Does China want the foreigner?” Columns of utter nonsense have from time to time been printed in the English press, purporting to have come from men supposed to know, to the effect that this Empire is crying out, waiting with open arms to welcome the European and the American with all his advanced methods of Christendom and civilization. It has by general assent come to be understood that China does want the foreigner. But those who know the Chinese, and who have lived with them, and know their inherent insincerity in all that they do, still wonder on, and still ask, “Does she?”
To the European in Hong-Kong, or any of the China ports, having trustworthy Chinese on his commercial staff—without whom few businesses in the Far East can make progress—my argument may seem to have no raison d’etre. He will be inclined to blurt out vehemently the absurdity of the idea that the Chinese do not want the foreigner. First, they cannot do without him if China is to come into line as a great nation among Eastern and Western powers. And then, again, could anyone doubt the sincerity of the desire on the part of the Celestial for closer and downright friendly intercourse if he has had nothing more than mere superficial dealings with them?
Thus thought the writer at one time in his life. He has had in a large commercial firm some of the best Chinese assistants living, in China or out of it, and has nothing but praise for their assiduous perseverance and remarkable business acumen and integrity.