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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/708

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DUTY OF WOMAN FROM A CHINESE POINT OF VIEW.

From The Pall Mall Budget.

THE WHOLE DUTY OF WOMAN FROM A CHINESE POINT OF VIEW.

The other day a learned judge, charged with adjusting the more serious differences that arise between married couples, delivered a long disquisition on the marked change that has taken place of late in the habits and manners of young persons of the softer sex. Ladies, in his opinion, are gradually assuming a freedom of action and demeanor from which a little while ago they would have shrunk with wholesome aversion. Unfortunately, however, he indicated no remedy for this state of things, although few persons are better qualified to offer advice upon a subject so closely connected with domestic happiness. Had he the requisite leisure he might employ it with advantage in the compilation of a work similar to one which, it seems, enjoys high favor among the Chinese. It is known as the "Nuu Shun; or, Instructions to Women," and has lately been brought home to us in a French translation.

In this popular vade mecum the whole duty of woman is set forth with all the minuteness of detail dear to the natives of the Celestial empire. At the beginning young ladies are cautioned how needful it is for them to observe the duties of politeness, to implicitly regard the injunctions of their parents, never to act from caprice, and to learn to make due distinction between persons of different positions. Young girls are, moreover, enjoined always to preserve a seemly demeanor, not to look round while walking, invariably to retire when male visitors make their appearance, and, above all, not to regard the latter too curiously. They are prohibited from going to the pagoda, counselled always to be provided with a lantern when unavoidably out at night, and enjoined to rise in the morning at cock-crow. Hilarity is evidently not considered becoming, giggling young ladies being but little esteemed by the Chinese. Neither is garrulity approved of, gossips creating, we are assured, not only mischief among others but ample annoyance for themselves.

Reading and conversation are treated of at length. "If," says our mentor to his disciples, "you do not read the books of saints and sages, how will you know the rites, the duties, the four virtues, and the three obediences" — namely, of the young girl towards her parents, of the wife towards her husband, and the widow towards the eldest of her sons? And he cites the example of Isoun, who threw herself against the sword that threatened her husband; of the mother of Ao, who, being too poor to buy books, taught her son to read by tracing letters on the sand; and of other worthy examples. "Women," he observes, "should know how to keep accounts in order to be capable of managing a household," a circumstance well understood out of China. And women, he insists, "should study books of filial piety and morality in preference to amatory poetry, should not store their memories with songs and anecdotes, nor listen to relations of romances;" in other words, should eschew Mudie literature. He is evidently sensible of the difficulties of the task he seeks to impose, for he observes that "effort upon effort must be made to follow these injunctions." "The merit of a woman," remarks this Celestial Solomon, "consists, above all, in being reserved, and not meddling too much in other people's business. A man should not speak of his home affairs, nor a woman of outside matters." "There are circumstances," he admits, "under which a woman ought to speak;" but he advises her to do so "with softness and moderation, and never to let bad or angry words escape her." The Chinese golden rule that "to speak little is a fine accomplishment," will be unwelcome to European or transatlantic belles with a reputation for brilliant small talk; but in these days of lath and plaster villas the wisdom of the recommendation that "if a visitor is in the drawing-room the mistress of the house should be careful not to speak too loud in the kitchen," will be very generally recognized.

Our Chinese mentor expresses himself briefly but to the point on matters relating to the toilette, and English husbands will certainly approve of his maxims: "Study simplicity and neatness. If you are painted and dressed in bright-colored garments, men will stare at you. Do not use rouge and powder every day. Be not too fond of gold, silver, pearls, and jade — all very expensive articles. Be careful of your embroidered and silk attire, and do not wear it excepting when necessary." A careful woman will dress usually in cotton stuffs, but we are not so sure that she "ought not to throw them aside even when they become soiled." She might wash them at least.

Parental respect is strongly inculcated. "The brother and sister, though of different sexes, owe the same respect to their parents; they should behave towards them both morning and evening in an amiable manner, ask them if they are warm or