Furthermore, Toy reads and writes English, and enjoys greatly sending us wonderful and involved reports. One of them ended as follows: “The weather is doing nicely, the place is safely well, and the dogs are happy all the while.” It brings to mind a peculiarly cheerful picture.
One of the familiar and persistent beliefs as to Chinese traits is that they are a race of automatons. “Tell your Chinaman exactly what you want done, and how you want it done,” say your advisors, “for you will never be able to change them once they get started.” And then they will adduce a great many amusing and true incidents to illustrate the point.
The facts of the case are undoubted, but the conclusions as to the invariability of the Chinese mind are, in my opinion, somewhat exaggerated.
It must be remembered that almost all Chinese customs and manners of thought are the direct inverse of our own. When announcing or receiving a piece of bad news, for example, it is with them considered polite to laugh; while intense enjoyment is apt to be expressed by tears. The antithesis can be extended almost indefinitely by the student of Oriental manners. Contemplate, now, the condition of the young Chinese but recently arrived. He is engaged by some family to do its housework; and, as he is well paid and conscientious, he desires to do his best. But in this he is not permitted to follow his education. Each, move he makes in initiative is stopped and corrected. To his mind there seems no earthly sense or logic in nine tenths of what we want; but he is willing to do his best.
“Oh, well,” says he to himself, “these people do things crazily; and no well-regulated Chinese mind could possibly either anticipate how they desire things done, or figure out why they want them that way. I give it up! I’ll just follow things out exactly as I am told”—and he does so!
This condition of affairs used to be more common than it is now. Under the present exclusion law no fresh immigration is supposed to be possible. Most of the Chinese servants are old timers, who have learned white people’s ways, and—what is more important—understand them. They are quite capable of initiative; and much more intelligent than the average white servant.
But a green Chinaman is certainly funny. He does things forever-after just as you show him the first time; and a cataclysm of nature is required to shake his purpose. Back in the middle ’eighties my father, moving into a new house, dumped the ashes beside the kitchen steps pending the completion of a suitable ash bin. When the latter had been built, he had Gin Gwee move the ashes from the kitchen steps to the bin. This happened to be of a Friday. Ever after Gin Gwee deposited the ashes by the kitchen steps every day; and on Friday solemnly transferred them to the ash bin! Nor could anything persuade him to desist.
Again he was given pail, soap, and brush, shown the front steps and walk leading to the gate, and set to work. Gin Gwee disappeared. When we went to hunt him up, we found him half way down the block, still scrubbing away. I was in favour of letting him alone to see how far he would go, but mother had other ideas as to his activities.