He who would make most abundant excuses for the Chinese could not say that he is simple in his speech.
That speech is the chief revelation of the mind, the first visible form that it takes, is undoubtedly true: as the thought, so the speech. All social relations with us have their roots in mutual trust, and this trust is maintained by each man’s sincerity of thought and speech. Apparently not so in China. There is so much craft, so much diplomacy, so much subtle legerdemain that, if he chooses, the Chinese may give you no end of trouble to inform yourself on the simplest subject. The Chinese, like so many cavillers and calumniators, all glib of tongue, who know better than any nation on earth how to turn voice and pen to account, have taken the utmost advantage of extended means of circulating thought, with the result that an Englishman such as myself, even were I a deep scholar of their language, would have the greatest difficulty in getting at the truth about their own affairs.
As I was going out of Sui-fu my caravan and myself were delayed by some fellow, who held the attention of my men for a full quarter of an hour. I listened, understanding nothing. After another five minutes, by which time the conversation had assumed what I considered dangerous proportions, having the safety of my boy at heart, I asked—
“T’ong, what is it?”
“Half a sec.,” he replied (having learnt this phrase from the gunboat men down the river). He did not, however, take his eyes from the man with whom he was holding the conversation. He then dived into my food-basket, wrenched off the top of a tin, and pulled therefrom two beautifully-marked live pigeons, which flapped their wings helplessly to get away, and resumed the conversation. Talk waxed furious, the birds were placed by the side of the road, and T’ong, now white with seeming rage, threatened to hit the man. It turned out that the plaintiff was the seller of the birds, and that T’ong had got them too cheap.
“That man no savee. He thinkee you, master, have got plenty money. He b’long all same rogue. I no b’long fool. I know, I know.”
As the cover of the food-basket was closed down I noticed a cooked fowl, two live pheasants with their legs tied together, a pair of my own muddy boots, a pair of dancing pumps, and a dirty collar, all in addition to my little luxuries and the two pigeons aforesaid. Reader, if thou would’st travel in China, peep not into thy hoh shih lan tsi if thou would’st feed well.