From the Publisher
A very amusing chapter in the history of official etiquette in China might be written under the heading of "The Emperor is Thanked." Many years ago the present writer was acquainted with a certain pedagogue, part of whose system of education consisted in extorting the formula, "Thank you, Sir," from his pupils in reply to any question or remark of whatsoever nature that might be addressed to them.
If he asked a pupil what the time was, "Half-past two, Sir, thank you," was the correct rejoinder; and the same expression of gratitude was enforced even in acknowledgment of a severe rebuke or the imposition of a task. We may be permitted to doubt whether this practice was conducive to any very high standard of sincerity in the schoolboy mind, and to ask how much real value was attached to the compulsory employment of a formula so servile.
The schoolmaster, however, was supported by a precedent of no small authority, had he only known it. The constitutional maxim that "the King can do no wrong" might be translated into the official language of China, "The Emperor can do nothing that is not benevolent." It is entertaining to study the circumstances under which thanks are offered to His Majesty, and the strange inversion of thought and language by which every relation between the Emperor and the subject is made to appear in the light of favors bestowed and received.
Every edict is a benign mandate, which it is an honor, a privilege, an act of grace, to be permitted to obey. This theory extends even to the infliction of punishments. When, some years ago, the boy-Emperor T'ung Cliih, in a fit of passion, thought proper to degrade his uncle from the first to the second degree of Imperial rank, the Prince humbly thanked His Majesty for permitting him still to exercise his function as a Grand Counselor. When reinstated on the following day, His Imperial Highness thanked the Emperor in still more grateful terms; and two days after, on the receipt of a bowl of bird's-nest soup, his gratitude could only find expression in a flood of tears.
It may be doubted, however, whether the weeping of Prince Kung upon this affecting occasion was of a less ceremonial nature than the performance of hired women who wail and howl at funerals.