A Small Book about China, and the Chinese

Children's Literature

Transcription of Primary Source


I suppose my little readers are very anxious to hear about China, and the people who live there. I do not think it strange that you should, as there are so many curious things to be told about them.

China is said to contain more people than any other country in the world. There are more than one hundred and fifty millions. About two millions of these live on the water, in boats and canoes. There is one settlement near Canton which is called the Boat Town. It consists of about forty thousand boats, of various kinds. These are regularly ranged in the form of streets, with openings between them large enough to allow other vessels to pass. It looks like a floating city. The people who live in these boats have no other homes, and are forbidden by law to live on land. There is much wretchedness in these boats, but the little boys learn to swim, and many of them think that none are so happy as they.

In China they eat dogs, rats, cats, snakes, and frogs. When the harvests are small, many people die of hunger. When in want of food to eat, parents are allowed to sell their children. They are also permitted to cast their female children into the river; but they fasten a gourd to the child, that it may be kept above water; and there are often some among the rich, who are moved by the cries of the children, who take them out of the water, and clothe and take care of them.

Here are to be found the finest canals and roads in the world; and probably owing to its being so thickly settled, there is not a spot more highly cultivated. The people find it necessary to use every means to raise food for the vast multitudes who throng every part of the land. Even their steep hills are cultivated. There are no fences to keep out thieves or wild animals...

The Chinese government shows a great many marks of favour to those who excel in agriculture. Every year, on the fifteenth day of the first moon, the Emperor (dressed in his robes of state) goes to a place appointed for the purpose, attended by his princes and great men, prostrates himself, and touches the ground nine times with his head, in honour of Tien, the God of Heaven. He then pronounces a prayer prepared by the court of ceremonies, invoking the blessing of the great Being on his labour, and on that of his people. Then, as high priest of the empire, he sacrifices a bullock to Heaven, as the fountain of all good. While the victim is offered on the altar, a plough, drawn by a yoke of oxen, highly ornamented, is brought to the emperor, who throws aside his richest robes, lays hold of the handle of the plough, and opens several furrows over the whole field. The principal mandarins and other chief officers, follow his example. The day closes with distribution of money and cloth among the poor. O how happy all the little boys and girls feel when this day comes. I hope those who have money given them, spend it for something that is useful. The large warehouses or stores in China, are called Hongs. In these, the great trade is carried on in teas and silks, which are the principal articles which they have to sell. Most of the tea used in every part of the world, is brought from China. It is put up in big square boxes, which are marked all over on the outside with queer looking letters - and these letters the people of China can read just as easily as you can read A. B. C...

Pekin is the seat of government, and is to be found in the northern part of what is called China Proper, a short distance from the great wall, which is considered one of the greatest wonders in the world. This wall was built more than two thousand years ago, and is fifteen hundred miles in length, thirty feet high, and fifteen feet broad on the top. It is carried over mountains which are nearly a mile in height, across deep valleys and over deep rivers, by means of arches. At almost every hundred yards there is a strong tower. Some of the towers, which are square, are forty-eight feet high, and nearly forty feet in width...

The houses of the common people are but one story. Those of the mandarins and rich merchants are high and well built. The city is adorned with a number of fish ponds, and pleasure gardens; besides several triumphal arches. The people here use no carriages; but all their burdens are carried on poles made of the bamboo, laid across the shoulders of men. Rich people, and those of high rank, make use of litters. Chinese women are never seen in the streets, and not often Tartar women.

The Chinese are very fond of Illuminations in the evening. They have one feast which they call the feast of lanterns. These lanterns are made of paper, some white, some red, and some blue. They have a very beautiful appearance at night.

Now, my little readers, get you maps, and if you do not know how to find cities and rivers on them, you must ask your parent and teacher to show you. The country between Pekin and Canton is almost entirely covered with plantations of tea and mulberry trees.

They never fire a gun in China by way of signal, but use round plates of copper, made heavy by much beating and struck with small wooden hammers, give a loud noise which can be heard at a very great distance.

Have you ever read of the Porcelain Tower at Nankin? It is thought to be a great curiosity. It is nearly two hundred feet high, and derives its name from its being covered on the outside with China. The women are considered handsome, according to the smallness of their eyes, the blackness of their hair, and the smallness of their feet ... The dress of the mandarins is of embroidered satin covered with blue crape. How singular their dress.

It is considered polite in China to inquire often after the health of visitors, of their parents, and relations, and also the age and name of such person.

The Chinese never bury their dead in the ground belonging to places of public worship, because they consider it unhealthy. They pay a kind of religious worship to their ancestors, and perform certain ceremonies at their tombs.

The Chinese abstain almost entirely from spirituous liquors. They live mostly on rice. It is said that the magnet was used by them before it was known to Europeans. The Emperor calls himself the Holy Son of heaven, Sole Guardian of the earth, and father of his people. Offerings are made to his image and his throne. His people prostrate themselves before him.


  • Prostrates - to stretch out or lie with one's face on the ground in adoration or submission

  • Bullock - a young bull or a castrated bull

  • Mandarin - a public official in the Chinese empire

  • Litters -  a covered and curtained couch provided with shafts and used for carrying a single passenger

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
A Small book about China, and the Chinese
16 pages, illustrated. From the series Uncle Oliver's books for children.
Oliphant & Skinner
Place of Publication: 
Auburn, NY
American Antiquarian Society
Catalog Code: 
CL-Pam S635 B724 1837