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I will, first, however, make a few remarks upon the real amount of the population, in confirmation of the statements that are now generalıy received.
The statements of the population of this empire, which have long been before the public, rest in official enumerations, regularly taken, or corrected, every year. The whole empire is divided for administrative purposes into provinces, and these, again, into departments and smaller districts, the lowest of which are composed of ten families—all, from the province to the decade, having their appropriate heads. The head of each district of ten families is required to keep a tablet, upon which is entered the number of the persons in each of the families composing his district, under the two general heads of able-bodied men, or tax-payers, and mouths-zor women and children. Once in every year the governor of each province collects these tablets and makes a return of the population, founded upon them, to the Board of Revenue or Treasury Department, at Peking. Here they are put in order and employed for the various purposes, such as military service, taxation, &c., for which such a return is wanted. The result is published from time to time, by authority, and thus possesses all the certainty that can well belong to the subject.
Sir George Staunton, in his account of the embassy of Lord Macartney, gives a statement of the total population of China, and of that of each of the provinces, taken for him from these returns by Shoo-Ta-Gin—a Mandarin of high standing and character. The total is three hundred and thirty-three millions. The amount for each province is also given in round numbers. It is apparent from this circumstance, that precise accuracy was not arrived at; but I know no reason for supposing that the number of millions was not in each case accurately taken.
Another statement, founded on the same returns, as made at a more recent period, was first published in the Companion to the Anglo-Chinese Calendar, for the year 1832, and has since been generally adopted as the most authentic account of the actual population of China. It purports to give the returns, made up for the seventeenth year of the Emperor Kia-King1812—as published by authority in the Ta-T'sing-Hoog- Teen, an Imperial Statute Book, at Peking, in the year 1828. It gives in exact numbers the amount for each province, and the total for the whole empire. The latter is 360,279,897. The population of the province of Canton, according to that estimate, is 19,174,030, or about the same with the present population of the whole United States.
As the population appears to have been increasing with rapidity ever since the accession of the now reigning dynasty, about two centuries ago, and as there is an interval of twenty years between the date of this return and that of the one given to Lord Macartney, the difference between them may be accounted for very naturally by the intervening increase. These two statements, therefore, agree very well together. That of 1812 is, of course, preferable from the greater accuracy with which the numbers are given.
The same returns, upon which this statement is founded, are contained in fuller detail in a publication of the distinguished French orientalist, M. Pauthier, entitled, “ Documens Statistiques et Officielles sur l'Empire de la Chine, traduits du Chinois, par G. Pauthier, Paris, 1841." “ Statistical and official documents respecting the Chinese Empire, translated from the Chinese." This is an exact translation from the Chinese official puidication, alluded to above, entitled, Ta-T'sing-Hoog-Teen, or the ** Imperial Statute Book.” The copy, employed by Pauthier, belongs to the Royal Library at Paris, and, although the date of the edition is not given in the title-page, includes documents of later date than 1812. The work is a com
plete statement, by authority, of the population, the revenue and the distribution of the land throughout the whole empire-interspersed with explanations of the manner in which the returns are made. In regard to population we have the following particulars:
“In each section, the person who has charge of the enumeration of the inhabitants, shall provide himself with tablets, one of which is to be hung up at the door of each honse. On this shall be written the name of the head of the family, with those of the able bodied men, or tax-payers, and of the women and children. The list shall be examined every year, in order to make the necessary changes. In the tenth moon of each year the Governors of provinces shall send round and collect from the Pao-Kias, or heads of ten families, these tablets. An abstract of these, with a calculation of the revenue resulting from it shall be transmitted to the Board of Revenue at Peking, where it shall form the basis of the annual report upon the finances and revenue of the empire.”
The work of Pauthier, from which I make these extracts, and which is a pamphlet of fifty pages, includes a large portion of the returns for 1812 in detail. For the present purpose, I need only say, farther, that it gives, as the report of the total amount of the population for that year, 361,693,177. There is a slight difference between this result and the one deduced from the same returns in the Anglo-Chinese Calendar. It is accounted for by the admission into the statement, as given by Pauthier, of two or three smaller items, which I need not here specify.
This is a far more carefully made up, and consequently more reliable estimate of the population of China, than we have of any other country on the globe, with, perhaps, the exception of the United States. We may, therefore, with safety, assume it as correct, especially as for the principal purpose which we have in view,-I mean the influence of the state of the population upon the condition of the people;—the total amount is of no material consequence-the result in this respect depending entirely upon the comparative density, and not the positive numbers.
This immense population appears to be of somewhat recent growth. The most ancient return, that I have seen, dates from the 26th year of HoongW00,-1393 of our era. In this the number of families is stated at 16,052,860, and that of individuals at 60,545,811. The next authentic statement is the return of tax-payers for the 50th year of Kang-Hee,-1712 of our era. The number is stated at 29,642,492. Multiplying this number by five, we have a total of 145,000,000 for the whole population of the empire. This is the estimate of Father Amyot, one of the most distinguished of the French Jesuits, given in a work published by him about the middle of the last century. Supposing it to be correct for the time to which it is referred,-1712,--the population doubled itself between that period and the year 1794, when Lord Macartney visited Peking. Between this latter date and 1812, it must have increased about thirty millions.
It is remarkable, however, that the Emperor Keen-Loong, in a proclamation addressed to the people at large upon the very subject of the population, and published in the work before quoted, Ta-Tsing-Hoog-teen, or “ Imperial Statute Book," sec. 141, p. 38-states that, in the 491h year of Kang-Hee, the population of the empire was 23,312,200. “Last year," he adds, “the amount, according to returns, made from all the provinces, was 307,467,200.” This proclamation was published by Keen-Loong in the 530 year of his reign,-1794,—the year before Lord Macartney's embassy; so it is not easy to reconcile the Emperor's statement for that year with the one of 330 millions given to Lord Macartney by Thoo-ta-gin ; but the difficulty is greatly increased, when we find the Emperor representing the whole population for the 49th year of Kang-Hee,–1712,-at only 23
millions. On this supposition it must have sunk between the years 1393 and 1712, from sixty to twenty-three millions; and then, in the next eighty years, suddenly started forward from 23 millions to 307. The conquest of the empire by the Manchoo Tartars,—the now reigning dynasty,—took place between the reigns of Hoong-Woo and Kang Hee, say about the year 1650,—and was attended by long and bloody wars, that, no doubt, produced at this time a considerable effect upon the population ; but such alternations of decline and progress, as are suggested by the statements given in the Emperor's proclamation, appear to be wholly inadmissible. most natural, and probably the true way of accounting for the apparent difficulty, is to suppose that the Emperor inadvertently described as a return of the whole population, what was intended, and is, in fact, described in other official publications, as a return of tax-payers only. Considered in this light, and multiplying the number it gives by five, it serves, as I have already said, for the basis of an estimate of about 145 millions,—which agrees very well with the more recent accounts. Unfortunately for this hypothesis, the Emperor himself affirms, in the same proclamation, that " between the 49th year of Kang-Hee and the time when he wrote, the population of the empire had increased about fifieen-fold,' and expresses some alarm as to the possibility of finding subsistence for the people, should their numbers continue to advance in the same proportion. Indeed, the principal object of the proclamation is to enjoin great industry in raising food, and great economy in the use of it, on the assumed ground, that the population was rapidly outstripping the means of subsistence. It is apparent, therefore, that the Emperor Keen-Loong really supposed the return of twenty-three millions for the year 1712, to be a return of the whole individual population of the empire. It is difficult to imagine how a sovereign of eminent talent and high literary accomplishments, like Keen-Loong, should have fallen into this errer. Possibly a more careful examination of the original may discover some mistake in the translation, which may enable us to explain the mystery. In the meantime, as it has no bearing upon the evidence in support of the official returns, there is no reason why it should make us doubt the accuracy of the estimate founded upon them, and now generally received as authentic and certain.
We may, therefore, as I remarked before, assume with safety for the present purpose, that the total population of the Chinese Empire amounts, in round numbers, to about three hundred and seventy millions. This immense mass is distributed in different degrees of density over a territory, the extent of which has been variously stated. Mr. J. Q. Adams, in his lecture on China, reckons it in round numbers at seven millions of sqnare miles,including, of course, Chinese Tartary ;-Balbi, perhaps the highest authority, and who, in this case, has the endorsement of Humboldt, states it at 5,350,000. This would give, for the whole empire, a density of about seventy to the square mile. Much the greater part of the population is, however, concentrated in China proper, which includes 1,297,000 square miles, or 836,719,630 English acres. On that territory the population stands to the geographical extent in the ratio of 257 to the square mile. This is not higher than the average ratio in the thickly-peopled parts of Europe. In some parts of the Neiherlands, for example, the ratio is 275 ; in England, about 225; in the Grand-duchy of Lucca, 250. In the prevince of Yoounau, in China proper, the average is as low as 74, which is rather lower than it is in the state of Massachusetts; while in Chee-Lee, the most populous of all, and the one which includes Peking, the average rises to 644. In the province of Kwantung (Canton) it is stated at 264.
I need hardiy say that the influence of the state of population upon the
condition of the people is determined entirely by its density, and not by the amount that may happen to be incorporated into one political system. The state of population in China, considered as a fact to be studied and accounted for, belongs, therefore, to the same class with the state of population in the thickly-peopled parts of Europe, --such as England, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the north of Italy.
The theory on the subject of the relation naturally subsisting between the state of population and the supply of the means of subsistence, which has of late prevailed in Great Britain, and which you have adopted as applicable to the United States, undertakes to prove that the reward of labor, or rate of wages, regularly declined in proportion to the increase of density in the population. You intimate, in one of your letters to me, that I shall find the truth of this principle confirmed by the existing state of things in China : in other words, that the reward of labor is lower, and the mass of the people consequently in a less comfortable situation than in other less densely peopled countries.
The impression that I have received from my reading upon the subject, as well as from such personal observations as I have been able to make, is different; and I think I shall be able to satisfy you, that, although the money price of labor, as of most other articles, is lower here than it is in the United Sates, the real rate of wages,—that is, the supply of the necessaries and comforts of life, which the laborer is able to procure with his pay, is greater than it is in most other countries, including those which we regard as the best administered and most prosperous in the western world.
In the remarks which you make upon the subject, in your letter, you do not go into any detailed statements of the grounds of your opinion in regard to the situation of the working class in China. You would, perhaps, rely, in some degree, upon the authority of Malthus, who takes the same view of the matter that you do,-and upon the evidence, adduced in support of it, in his Essay on Population.
“The reward of labor in China, (he remarks,) is kept as low as possible, and the mass of the people are in the most abject state of poverty. The price of labor is generally found to bear as small a proportion everywhere to the rate demanded for provisions, as the common people can suffer. Notwithstanding the advantage of living together in large families, like soldiers in a mess, and the exercise of the greatest economy in the management of these messes, they are reduced to the use of vegetable food, with a very rare and scanty relish of any animal substance.”
These statements are given by Malthus on the authority of Sir George Staunton. He adds, on that of Du Halde, that, "notwithstanding the great sobriety and industry of the inhabitants, the prodigious number of them occasions a great deal of misery. There are some so poor, that, being unable to supply their children with common necessaries, they expose them in the streets.
In the great cities, such as Canton and Peking, this shocking sight is very common."
He farther adds, on the authority of Father Premare, one of the Jesuit missionaries, writing to a friend, that
“ The richest and most flourishing empire in the world is, notwithstanding, in one sense, the poorest and most miserable of all. The country, however extensive and fertile, is not sufficient to support its inhabitants. Four times as much territory would be necessary to place them at their ease. In Canton alone, there is, without exaggeration, more than a million of souls; and in a town, three or four miles distant, (Foo Shaw,) a still greater number. Who, then, can count the inhabitants of the province? But what is this to the whole empire, which contains fifteen great provinces, all equally peopled ? To how many millions would such a calculation amount ? A third part of this infinite population would hardly find sufficient rice to support itself properly.
" It is well known that extreme misery impels a people to the most dreadful excesses.
A spectator in China, who examines things closely, will not be surprised, that mothers destroy, or expose many of their children,—that parents sell their daughters for a trifle, that the people are selfish, and that there are such numbers of robbers. The surprise is, that nothing still more dreadful should happen; and that in times of famine, which are here but too frequent, millions of people should perish with bunger, without having recourse to those dreadful extremities of which we read examples in the history of Europe.
“ It cannot be said, in China, as in Europe, that the poor are idle, and might gain a subsistence if they would work. The labors and efforts of these people are beyond conception. A Chinese will pass whole days in digging the earth, --sometimes up to the knees in water,-and in the evening, is happy to eat a little spoonful of rice, and to drink the insipid water in which it was boiled. This is all that they have in general."
These are the principal authorities cited by Malthus in support of his assertions in regard to the supposed "abject poverty" of the mass of the people, and the extreme smallness' of the reward of their labor, as compared with what it is in other countries.
As respects the supposed practice of exposing infant children, alluded to in the above extract and elsewhere, as one of the evidences of the very wretched state of the working classes in China, I cannot, of course, go into detail in the short compass of a letter. There is reason to believe, that in some of the statements made upon this subject, the truth has been greatly exaggerated, and that the crime in question is not more frequent than it is in the more populous parts of the Christian world, -particularly in some of the great cities of the continent of Europe. If the view which I take of the state of the people be correct, it must be attributed, when it does occur, to the same causes which produce it elsewhere, viz., in shame, or sheer profligacy, and not to an extremity of destitution, which, as I shall presently show, is itself entirely imaginary.
Before entering into particulars, I will remark, in the first place, that the density of population-even taking into view only China proper—is not greater, as I have shown, than it is in the thickly-peopled parts of Europe. If this supposed wretchedness of the mass of the people be real, and be, also, the effect of the density of the population, how happens it that it does not exist in England, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the north of Italy, countries, in which the population is of about the same density as in China, and which are, by general acknowledgment, precisely the most prosperous and flourishing parts of Europe ? It is obvious, that the wretchedness sup. posed is either imaginary and unreal, or that, so far as it may be real, it is the effect of some other cause, since the same density of population, existing in other countries, not only does not produce this effect, but coincides with the most remarkable developments of national prosperity that are recorded in the history of the world.
Again : we are told by Father Premare, in the extract given above, that “there is not rice enough grown to support one-third of the population ;''yet rice, we know, is the main article of food. What, then, becomes of the other two-thirds? It is obvious, that, if this assertion were true, it would take but one or two years to reduce the population to a third of the present amount. This remark is sufficient of itself to show the degree of attention which is due to the statements of the worthy father, considered as scientific data. He was a person of superior talent and excellent character, and, withal, a very good writer ;-large portions of his correspondence, as given in the Lettres Curieuses et Edificantes, in which the letter here quoted is contained, are very interesting. But he evidently wrote, on this occasion, with no view to scientific accuracy, and really means nothing more than that the Empire of China was very populous, and that he had reason to believe, that there was, at times, a great deal of suffering among the poor.