Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/607

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REPUBLICAN INSTITUTIONS IN CHINA

fact, much of it reads like a paraphrase into legal terms of the moral teachings of Confucius. To this is added a minute gradation of punishments. But in all the thirty-six volumes in which the code is usually published there is hardly a reference to contracts, and no mention whatever of negotiable instruments, partnerships, or to any of the other branches of civil law.

It is in this broad field of private rights and liabilities that the genius of the people for organization and regulation displays itself. Aside from literary pursuits, the absorbing interest of the Chinese is trade, and in this department they brook no interference from governments or authorities. Commerce is closely organized. In a large commercial center the traders in every staple have their association, the visible evidences of which are the large, substantial guildhalls. In Shanghai, for instance, will be found a piece-goods guild, an opium guild, a silk guild, a bankers' guild and numerous others of lesser importance—in fact, no class in China seems to be so ignorant or so poor as to be wanting in some organization for the protection of its members. There is even a beggars' guild.

The guilds are something more than we might infer from the term. They have an overshadowing prestige. Some years ago the viceroy of one of the coast provinces attempted to levy an additional impost on salt. The merchants protested. The viceroy was obdurate. Not a catty was sold until the distress was such that he was compelled to yield, and shortly after memorialized the throne to be relieved of his official duties "in order that he might visit his parents." Negotiable paper has been in use in China for many centuries. The well-defined usage on this subject is the outgrowth of the regulations of the bankers' guild. More recently, the law of insurance has been provided by the underwriters' guild, that of transportation by the shippers' guild, and so on. In fact, it has been said by an authority on Chinese business customs that if the by-laws of all the various guilds could be gathered together, the collection would constitute not only a logical, consistent commercial code, but one far better adapted to its purpose than any that could be produced by the ordinary processes of legislation.

Commercial disputes very rarely come before any court for adjudication. Between members of the same guild such matters are decided promptly, finally and satisfactorily by the guild itself. Differences between members of independent guilds are referred either to a joint committee, or to a third body for arbitration. If a point involving commercial usage comes before a magistrate it is usual for him to call for a ruling from the proper guild.

The aloofness of the government is further illustrated by the laws covering marriage and divorce. The code defines with exactitude the relationships in which marriage is unlawful, but no such thing as a