Go to Jordan's main page,
China Resources main page.

Content created: 2019-01-21

decorative graphic

Walshe: Ways That Are Dark


W. Gilbert Walshe was the editorial secretary of the “Society for the Diffusion of Christian and General Knowledge among the Chinese,” and a long-term resident of China in the last years of the last dynasty. Foreigners, often missionaries, annoyed Walshe by their disregard of Chinese etiquette, a disregard based more often on ignorance than on boorishness, and he was happy to undertake a commission to try to improve their behavior. In a breathtakingly meandering single sentence, he writes (pp. 9-10):

The “foreigner” does not know what is the right thing to do under certain circumstances, and, fearing to “make an ass of himself,” does nothing, thinking that by inaction he may escape the undignified character which he fears he may assume, but as a matter of fact, appearing to even greater disadvantage, for even “barbarians” are known to possess some social conceptions, and if the “foreigner” betrays ignorance of Chinese methods, and is too self-conscious to avail himself of his own native code of politeness, he is likely to be regarded by his Chinese acquaintances as a “heathen man and a publican” devoid alike of moral consciousness and gentlemanly instincts; and perhaps he is not altogether wrong in the apprehension of appearing an ass by contrast with his host, for an ancient seer, when foretelling the Manchu invasion and the imposition of the Manchu costume upon the Chinese people, described the future conquerors of the country as horse-like creatures; the curious cuffs of the official jacket representing the “hoofs” (which is, indeed, the actual name applied to them —”Horse-hoofs”); the horse-hair plume of the ceremonial hat representing the mane; the queue forming the tail; and the smoke from the Manchu tobacco-pipe suggesting the fiery breath of the monster.

Recovering his sense of purpose, he continues:

The following chapters were written at the request of the Mid-China Church Missionary Conference for the guidance of missionaries newly arrived in China, it being felt that a better acquaintance with Chinese social methods might prevent many unfortunate blunders and much mutual misunderstanding between the missionaries and the Chinese.

Obviously Walshe is not the most eloquent or even the most sympathetic writer, but he was in China during the Qīng dynasty and we were not, so his observations must be data for us as we seek to understand that now vanished world.

This page includes two extracts. In one, Walshe advises the newly arrived missionary how to walk down the street. In the second, he gives advice about hiring someone to teach him Chinese. Each provides a window on everyday life as it was experienced in about 1900, in the closing days of the Qīng dynasty.

I have increased the number of paragraph breaks, modernized the spelling of the few Chinese terms and inserted subtitles in the interest of easier on-line reading. The full reference is:

WALSHE, W. Gilbert
1906 “Ways That Are Dark”: Some Chapters on Chinese Etiquette and Social Procedure. Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, Ltd. Pp. 25-33, 79-82.

Return to top.

Ways That Are Dark
Chinese Etiquette for Missionaries, 1900

Chapter II: In the Street


To the [foreign] resident in China few graces are of more importance than that of affability and good temper, which the Chinese combine in one word, hé , commonly translated “harmony,” and which they consider the most admirable product of the laws of courtesy. He who is not blessed with this gift by nature, or is unable to cultivate it, will find it difficult to make his way with the Chinese people; whilst he who is thus endowed will be able to exert a great influence over them.

Catcalling by Children. In walking through the streets of a Chinese city, the foreign visitor or resident should remember the photographer’s advice, and look as pleasant as possible. If people are rude to him, he should try to .overlook it; if children call him “Ocean Demon” (Yángguǐzi 洋鬼子), or by any other popular phrase (by “popular” I do not mean popular amongst the called, but amongst the callers), he should not menace them with his walking-stick, but appear as if he had not heard; or, if desirous of putting an end to the objectionable practice, he should appeal to some respectable old gentleman standing by to teach the youngster to amend his ways. In a word, he should look and act in as “friendly” a way as possible, and avoid all appearance of aggressiveness or super-sensitiveness. This will enable him to overcome many disabilities.

Precedence: Common-Law Right-of-Way.

In walking in the street he should not go “at the rate of a hunt,” but quietly and soberly, standing aside to allow heavily-burdened coolies or chair-bearers to pass.

The conduct of street traffic in China, where there is no policeman to direct and control the “living stream,” depends upon the observance of certain recognised rules which are worthy of careful note.

  1. Processions. The first principle to be remembered is that way must be made by the more mobile body for that which is less easily moved; thus in the case of a long procession, such as that of a wedding party, some religious celebration, or the heterogeneous following of an official, everything else must stand aside to allow the unwieldy assemblage to pass.
  2. Horses. A mounted man takes precedence of a passenger in a sedan-chair, since the latter is supposed to be more easily controlled than a possibly restive horse.
  3. Palanquins. An empty sedan-chair gives way to one which is occupied.
  4. People with Loads. A coolie bearing a load staggers to one side to allow a chair to pass, but all unladen pedestrians must yield the right of road to the load-carrying coolie —an excellent rule, and one which appeals to every one who has any sense of compassion for these poor human “beasts of burden.”

The foreigner who declines to submit to these unwritten laws will take a very low place in the estimation of the Chinese, and no doubt it must seem incongruous, to say the least, that the man who professes such high humanitarian instincts as the Westerner should show himself so unyielding and arbitrary in instances such as these. When people happen to collide, or accidentally jostle one another, it is usual for each to say, “It’s my fault” —literally, “I have incriminated myself” [duìbuqǐ 對不起].

Return to top.

Walking Like a Proper Scholar

The literary man

Meeting Friends

Equal Friends. If he should happen to meet a friend, he should stand for a moment to inquire after his honourable household, and make a few polite remarks, such as, “I haven’t seen you for a long time”; “Where are you going?” etc.

Superior Friends. If, however, the friend should be an official, riding in his chair, he must either turn up a side street or into a shop; or, in default of these resources, should turn his back and look the other way, or screen his face with his fan, if he is carrying one —for it would not be “good form” for the official to salute him with a nod, and etiquette would require that the rider should descend from his chair, which would be in every way inconvenient.

Amongst the articles carried by the attendants of high officials are some fans of gigantic proportions, which are intended for use in the event of two trains meeting on the road, in which case the attendants hurry forward to interpose the fans between the chairs as they pass, and thus prevent mutual recognition on the part of the officers.

Unknown Superiors.Should the pedestrian meet an official whom he does not recognise, he should stand aside, with a respectful gesture, until the chair has passed on, its way; to point, or smile, or peep, or talk at the moment, would be exceedingly rude, This is very important, for, though the official may not appear to have observed the “foreigner,” he will be sure to make inquiries on his return to the yamen —as the official residence is called, a combination of dwelling and court-house— and his conclusions with regard to foreigners in general, and this foreigner in particular, will be influenced very largely by his first impressions.

Return to top.

English-Style Walking Sticks

I have referred to the walking-stick, which some [foreign] residents in China seem to regard as an inseparable companion; and I am tempted to make the remark that it would be a good thing if the same could be conveniently dispensed with.

To the Chinese the carrying of a staff, by people in the prime of life, is an anomaly which they can only explain by the theory that the staff indicates official position, or, more popularly, that it is intended for beating dogs, and hence it is often called dǎgǒu bàng 打狗棒 or “dog-beating staff.”

With regard to the first [i.e., official position], it might not he considered as altogether uncomplimentary; but the second, and by far the most common explanation, classes foreigners with the other dog-beaters —i.e. the beggars, who also carry staves or other implements to protect themselves; and the dogs themselves also appear to agree in this classification, as they generally present their salutations to beggars and foreigners, making no invidious distinctions between the classes!

Now, dogs may not be beaten with impunity in China, and if the foreigner applies his staff to the hide of a “dog,” he will not rise in the estimation of the owners; and for this reason he will be well advised if he leaves his “staff” at home, and he will probably find that the dogs will trouble him less if he is thus unprotected than they would if he went “armed.”

This, however, is a “counsel of perfection.” There may be cases when it is absolutely necessary to protect oneself; but yet one may remember that ladies are equally exposed as men, and are generally unarmed.”

It is quite possible that the foreigner who does not protect himself with a walking-stick may be bitten by some savage watch-dog, but he may console himself with the thought that a remedy is at hand. All that is necessary is to obtain some rice and sugar from the household to which the dog belongs, and apply a poultice of these to the wound. This application will be found to be a “sovereign balm”; but it is necessary that the materials should come from the dog’s home, and not from any other household. The foreigner may therefore rest assured that his conscientious observance of Chinese etiquette, in this respect, will not expose him to danger without providing an infallible remedy!

Return to top.


A staff for a young or middle-aged person is in China, practically, a contradiction in terms. The ancient rule was that a man of sixty might be entitled to carry a staff for support within the limits of his own village or small town; at seventy he might use his staff as far as the confines of his own state; and at eighty he might go so far as to appear at Court thus supported.

From this it will be seen that the privilege of using a walking-stick was strictly limited; and, in fact, so closely are age and the walking-stick associated, that “old man” and “staff” are sometimes used as synonymous terms —cf. zhàng = a staff, and the same character repeated with the character zhě , giving it a personal signification zhàngzhě; 杖者 = a “staffer,” i.e. an old man.

Carrying Parcels

It is not seemly for the scholar to appear in full dress, bearing a parcel of whatever kind; but an exception is made in the early morning, when he may sally forth in morning costume to pick up some appetising trifle in the market, and carry it home in propria persona. A fan, and possibly an umbrella, are perhaps the only things with which a gentleman burdens himself; other things are committed to the care of a servant.

Whistling, singing, or even humming some favourite air, are all inconsistent with genteel behaviour when abroad. [Walshe doesn’t say so, but in much of China whistling, especially at night, was often thought to risk summoning malign spirits. —DKJ]

Return to top.

Engaging in Exercise

In some places there are few opportunities afforded to the foreign resident for taking exercise, and he is almost forced to betake himself to the top of the city wall, where he can enjoy privacy, air, and, sometimes, a good view; but in places where the houses are built close up to the walls, and access is possible from this vantage-ground, the foreigner must be careful not to create suspicion of felonious intent.

In some cities there is an inner path between the wall and the buildings, and in such cases no difficulty need exist —the Chinese do not seem to fear overlooking from superstitious so much as from practical motives; but it would be a safe plan in each case to learn the temper of the people before attempting such excursions, as it is quite possible, in some out-of-the-way cities, the people might suspect some malignant design on the part of the foreigner who was frequently noticed perambulating the city wall.


In cases of street brawls, where large crowds congregate, it is safer to take a circuitous route rather than attempt to force a passage through, and this for various reasons —e.g. if the foreigner should thus be seen tightly wedged in the middle of a crowd, he might be regarded, by new arrivals on the scene, as being the cause of the trouble; or his presence and helplessness might be an incentive to some cowardly person to begin an attack upon him, and administer “a stab in the dark”; not to mention the dangers he may run, from a hygienic standpoint, in thus “rubbing shoulders” with the anything but “aseptic” specimens which all such crowds contain.

An inquisitive spirit is also to be deprecated, and it will be more seemly to remain in ignorance than to inquire of bystanders the reason of the disturbance, or endeavour to take a hand.

It is sometimes difficult for a foreigner to restrain himself when he sees what he imagines to be an instance of “gross injustice”; but possibly he may only exaggerate that injustice by insisting upon interfering.

Return to top.

Morbid Curiosity

A morbid curiosity should also be avoided —it is astonishing what an attraction such subjects as mutilated coffins or dismantled graves possess in the estimation of some foreigners. To “globetrotters,” especially, this attraction amounts almost to a fascination, and they are with difficulty dissuaded from satisfying the “lust of the eye” in such melancholy curiosities.

But the danger of indulging such propensities will be evident when it is pointed out that, for years past, numberless rumours have been in circulation, charging Europeans with the crime of extracting the pelvic bones from female corpses for medicinal purposes; many instances have been related by Chinese “gossips” where the clothing and jewellery were found intact, and only certain bones were missing from the coffin; thus proving conclusively that plunder was not the object in view, and that some occult motive must be sought for; and the suggestion that the hand of the foreigner was manifest in the proceedings was universally accepted as the best, and, in fact, the only, solution of the mystery.

Return to top.


Care should a1so be exercised in the use of the photographic camera, especially where large crowds are assembled, as on the occasion of a procession or other popular celebration. Such functions are generally managed by people of questionable character, and attract large numbers of the rowdy and vagabond classes, as well as the country folks from far and near.

These latter have, often an invincible repugnance to being photographed, believing firmly that in the chemical process by which the portrait is produced, a certain element called “golden essence” is employed, and which is evidently confounded with the “silver bath” used for sensitising photographic plates and paper.

Now, this golden essence is supposed to be identical with a certain cooling medicine, which is said to he very efficacious in complaints arising from vitiated blood, and which is collected from the fluid which oozes out of cess-pools, percolating through the surrounding soil; and hence it is maintained that to expose oneself to the camera is equivalent to having this offensive fluid dashed upon one’s face, which would have the effect of ruining one’s luck; and, as a natural consequence, the unsophisticated countryman objects very strongly to exposing himself to such a hazardous treatment; and not only so, but the more dangerous elements in the crowd may be encouraged to attack the rash photographer and destroy his apparatus; and there will be little hope of obtaining compensation from the magistrate, or the conviction of the offenders, on account of the of identification under such circumstances, and the manifest unwisdom of the foreigner in thus exposing himself to danger and popular resentment.


Return to top.

Chapter 11: Treatment of Teachers of the Chinese Language

Showing Respect to Teachers

The position of the teacher, or tutor, it must be carefully remembered, is one of the highest in China, and he takes a place in the list of the “Great Five” —i.e., Heaven, Earth, Prince, Parent, and Teacher.

Hierarchy. In the household he takes precedence of all below the master, and, indeed, in some cases —e.g. at meals— should the master elect to sit at the same table, the tutor takes the first place. This does not often happen, as a matter of fact, as the master prefers to sit apart in order to avoid the ceremony which he would have to observe in sitting with the tutor.

Location. According to the “Book of Rites” [Lǐ Jì 禮記], the scholar should not be tempted by any consideration to “go out” as teacher, but insist on the pupils coming to his own residence [since, in general, a host is a person of superior social standing, and a guest one of inferior standing]; but in the case of foreigners studying Chinese, where the teacher is invited to come to the learner’s house, he regards himself in the light of a friend helping a friend, and hence he should be treated as a friend, and not as an employee or servant.

Standing Up. The pupil should rise slightly from his chair to salute him on arrival, and also to take leave of him on departing, and on leaving the room for any reason should give notice by way of apology.

However incapable or unsatisfactory the teacher may be, the learner must not attempt to address him in anything but polite and courteous terms; there is a resource in case of incompetence —viz. to give him his congé [=dismissal]— but abuse or hectoring must not be resorted to in any case.

Return to top.

Salary. The “salary” of a teacher is distinguished from the “pay” of a servant, and the terms must not be interchanged. The former is called dōngxiū 東脩, or “a bundle of dried meat,” referring to the ancient practice of payment in kind; the latter xīngōng 辛工, which means “bitter labour.”

In paying the teacher his monthly allowance, the polite method is to enclose the amount in a piece of red paper and place it, with both hands, in front of the recipient, or it may be conveniently laid beforehand on the table where he can see it.

The Chinese are very particular as to the method of presenting things, and Mencius’s words, that “ passers-by will not accept that which is rudely offered them, and even a starving beggar will refuse to pick up that which is thrown to him and indicated by the foot of the donor,” are kept in mind, and this is especially worthy of remembrance in the case of the “ teacher,” who is also supposed to be a “friend,” for to behave rudely to one’s friend is equivalent to being rude to oneself; and one’s good reputation is largely dependent upon the goodwill of the teacher, for he mixes in good society, and is constantly called upon to condemn or defend his pupil, and, indeed, “foreigners” generally, who are not always in good repute amongst the literary classes.

If the teacher joins in the popular chorus against the foreigner, then who will stand up for him? And if the [foreign] pupil gains a bad name among the upper classes, his influence [as a missionary] among the masses will be largely discounted; whilst if his name is held in honour amongst the influential and highly placed, his position amongst other classes of the people will be assured.

Length of Contract. The rule with regard to employing teachers is that the engagement lasts for twelve months, unless it is stated that the first month is to be experimental. If the period of probation is passed successfully, then the arrangement cannot be abrogated, unless in the case of unsatisfactory conduct.

Return to top.

Payment. The salary is paid at the end of every [lunar] month (Chinese reckoning), and even if the pupil is unable to study, or is removed to another place, the payment continues to the end of the year. It is possible that arrangements may be made by which the services of the teacher are transferred to another, or the payment of the year’s salary may be compounded; but these are contrary to the strict rule, which is that the arrangement, when once made, should stand unalterable.

In securing a teacher care should be exercised, and, in the event of other resources being unavailable, application may be made to some of the local gentry to recommend a man of good character, disposition, and ability. This will ensure not only correctness in diction, but also a good accent and style.

Amateur Teachers. It is a great mistake to be content with the assistance of some native Christian schoolmaster, or other Church member who is familiar with the “ecclesiastical dialect” which is so common in some missions —i.e. the hybrid patois [of foreigners who speak Chinese badly] which some foreigners speak, and which is adopted by the native adherents after long association [because they think that is what Christians are supposed to sound like].

The Christian “stop-gap” [teacher] will inevitably seek to educate the beginners up to this standard, and it is almost impossible to undo the evil which may result from a false start of this kind.

The junior native [bilingual] agent is also an unreliable authority on Chinese questions, as he is seldom acquainted with native customs or modes of thought, having been educated, generally, in some missionary “forcing-house,” [i.e., greenhouse, a slang term for a boarding school] and isolated from the ordinary Chinese surroundings.

Sparing No Expense. Economy should not be made the only consideration in these cases —the best economy is for the student to acquire a thorough mastery of the language, and an insight into Chinese modes of thought and methods of life; and this is to be attained by the employment of a good teacher, who is not only a scholar, but a gentleman, and who is fully acquainted with those subjects which are best worth acquiring.

Return to top.