Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

precisely calculated for the double purpose of at once encouraging the increase of people, and diminishing the quantity of subsistence; thereby completely reversing the natural order instituted by a beneficent Providence, and acting the part of a farmer who should increase his stock in proportion as he diminished the size of the farm on which he raised their food.

Having premised thus much, let us now proceed to inquire into the number of deaths by infanticide in China. It appears from Mr. Barrow's information, collected during Lord Macartney's Embassy, (Barrow's China, 4to. p. 169, and seq.) that about 9000 exposed infants are picked up by the police in the streets of Pekin, a city containing 3,000,000 of inhabitants, and carried out of the town to be buried. Of these about 5000, or five-ninths, are supposed to be still-born, and exposed to save the expense of burial, which is so great in China, that instances have been known of corpses being kept a year above ground to save money for a suitable interment (Barrow's China, ibid.); the remainder, or 4000, may be laid to the charge of inhuman or distressed parents. It is farther calculated, from the best authorities, that the number of these deaths at Pekin are equal to one half of what take place in other parts of the empire; so that in a population of 230,000,000, about 8000 children are known to be annually exposed to destruction. Now the annual number of births in China, considering the climate and encouragement to marriage, cannot be calculated at less than 8,000,000 or 1 in 30. Therefore about one child in 1000 is murdered, or exposed by its parents, immediately upon its birth. The number exposed in times of famine, perhaps, in some

degree exceeds the average of common years, but probably not to any great extent. The famines in China arise from the uncertain nature of their staple crop, rice; and, as it is known to be of a temporary nature, terminable at the next harvest, that is, within six months at farthest, there does not appear to be any great additional temptation to the exposure of an infant who consumes no rice, but subsists upon its mother's milk. The famines, by destroying many youths and adults, must certainly diminish the number of births, but cannot much increase the number of children exposed; neither is there any reason to suppose that many are privately murdered. Where the government indirectly sanctions the exposure of children, and provides publicly for their interment, it is impossible to suppose that any parent would prefer the horrid office of destruction to the milder expedient of exposure, where some hope, however faint, may still exist, that the infant's life may be saved by the humanity of the opulent. That this feeling does enter into their minds is evident from the practice of the numerous part of the Chinese population, which dwells upon the rivers. Whenever they expose an infant, they universally tie a gourd round part of its body to keep it above water, in hopes that, in its course down the river, some one may take compassion upon it and rescue it from death. These hopes are certainly very ill-founded. The fact, however, of the practice is a proof that they exist; for otherwise what parent would not rather tie a stone round its child's neck and hasten its end, than preserve it to die in the lingering orture of cold and hunger ?

We see then the amount of the deaths by infan

ticide in China, a resource which has been asserted to be a principal and necessary check to their overflowing population. It may throw light upon this subject to form a comparative estimate of the effect which the same proportion of exposed infants would produce in our own country. The annual births in England and Wales, may be fairly estimated at something more than 300,000, and supposing every 1000th child to be exposed, the total number would amount to 300 for the whole kingdom. Let those who consider the annual admissions at the Foundling Hospital, together with the unhappy infants deserted by their parents, and admitted into the workhouses of all places where there is a considerable population; that few assizes pass where mothers are not indicted for the crime to which they are impelled through fear of shame, and that it must sometimes be

perpetrated without discovery; let those who consider these things say how far the civilized and enlightened England, comes behind the brutalized China, in the crime of exposing infants. So many, indeed, are not ultimately lost to their country, because the humanity of the laws or of individuals preserves their lives; but if they were ultimately destroyed, it would be obviously absurd to count upon an annual destruction of 300 children as one of the principal drains upon the population of the country. The extended territory and the great absolute population of China aré apt to cause much confusion in the mind of an English reader, unless he be familiar with the study of political arithmetic. When he hears of thousands and millions of persons employed in particular pursuits, or enrolled, &c. the proportion which such a number bears to the whole population of his own

country, or of any other with whose history he is familiar, and upon the contemplation of which his general ideas have been formed, makes the number ap: pear enormous ;—and he is constantly obliged to do violence to his habitual feelings that he may render the account consistent with his ideas of its possibility. It will probably surprise many persons to be told that the average population of England to a square mile is greater than in China, notwithstanding the great absolute population of the latter; yet it is a fact, that England contains 188 inhabitants to a square mile, China not quite 180. Such is the effect of comparisons.

Infanticide, moreover, is found to be chiefly confined to the cities, and to the numerous dwellers upon the water ; this appears both by actual observation, and by inference from the state of society in China, where the agriculturist, being oppressed and plun. dered, and his markets under the control of a corrupt government, raises no surplus produce, ex, cept for the payment in kind of his tax of the tenth of the crop (see Barrow, p. 400) to the general proprietor, the Emperor: so that the inhabitants of cities and of the boats are very often left by the agriculturist without an adequate supply of food, the price of which rises among them to an enormous height, reducing the townsman to absolute want, and the waterman to a precarious subsistence upon fish alone (see Barrow's China, p. 558). It is natural, therefore, that persons in such a situation should despair of their ability to support a family, and, being encouraged by their public institutions to marriage and not deterred from entering into the contract by any of the moral or political causes incident to a civilized state of society, that they should be sometimes tempted to

expose their infants.

. The fact, however, of the crimes being confined to the great cities, and to those who dwell on the water (in both of which situations the people are crowded together in a very inconvenient manner, (p. 349,) and the want of cleanliness, and of preventive precautions, must be peculiarly unfavourable to early life,) renders the real amount of the drain upon the population, from infanticide, much less than appears upon the face of the numerical returns. For as in towns and in the situations just described it is universally found that not more than half the numbers born live to the age of two years, it follows that one half of the exposed children must be deducted, to form a fair computation of the positive drain upon the population; since had they been spared at that time they would never have reached the age of two years, and all the care and expense bestowed upon them would have been, politically speaking, a pure loss to the state.

In thus reducing the extent of the practice of infanticide in China within its proper bounds, for the purpose of correcting exaggerations and false statements, I am far from asserting that the people of that country are not often reduced to the lowest stage of want and misery; the public permission of such a practice, to any extent at all, is the strongest proof that the government is convinced of its rent necessity, according to the actual state of affairs in the country, and to the existing condition and resources of the people. But I do most strenuously contend that that condition does not follow from any real necessity, arising out of a physical impossibility of finding resources of food equal to the plentiful supply of the existing population, or of any number to

its appa

« ForrigeFortsett »