This is a very brief list of interesting proverbs and quotations discovered during researching and preparing this work. They are gathered here for the readers’ own reflection. I do not agree with all of them myself:

“… of races there is neither inferiority nor superiority, only variety. History aims at the harmony of nations, the co-operation of all peoples” Chaim Potok in Wanderings.

“Successful trade produces honest dealings.” proverb

“Trade always finds a way.” This proverb appears multiple times throughout the period under review and is so well understood one may consider it part of the common knowledge of our species.

Canton Register, Vol 13 No 16 – 21st April 1840

Open Letter from a Bombay merchant to all Associations, Chambers of Commerce, Proprietors of India stock, Merchants, Shipowners and others in Britain interested in the East India and China trade:

“ ….. Morality does not seem to be a factor in the everyday business of the British government.”


Extract from a petition of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Livery of London to the House of Commons in 1810:

“More than 300 Members of the Commons are not elected by the people but nominated by 150-odd peers and others who really run the country. This complaint was made to your House in 1793 and has never been controverted. On the contrary the then minister (Pitt) threatened to punish the petitioner for libel.”


“The hand that gives is above the hand that receives” Napoleon’s opinion of debt-based financial systems.


“A law which knows no exceptions is always just.” Napoleon in The Manuscript of St Helena.

Canton Register, Vol 7 No 52 – Tues 30th December 1834

Editorial – We all agree that the World was created for our use. This is not just true in Europe and America but everywhere. It is a resource for general use. It follows that nothing ought to be made exclusive property if it can be enjoyed in common. The Chinese government must be wrong to exclude us. Its laws are founded on principles that damage the general rights of mankind.

Still many assert that a country cannot be forced to trade with another except on its own terms. How does this assertion arise? By what right were the North American Indians driven out of their homes by America and Britain? It is the right of the civilised over the barbarous; the right of knowledge to supplant ignorance. It is a law of nature. If other countries followed the Chinese example where would we all be? Would that result in ‘the best of all possible worlds’? To follow the Chinese way is to let men live like animals, perpetually fighting each other. Hobbes ‘Leviathan’ foretells the result should Chinese policy spread.


Edict of Viceroy Tang, 16th March 1837

Foreigners should understand the Heavenly principles and be capable of gratitude. They should acknowledge the Emperor’s benevolence in permitting their trade. But amongst them are some few who neither respect anything nor obey anyone. Some others are ignorant and imagine I issue instructions merely to fill time. These people nurture their foreign ways and do not adapt to Chinese law. It is difficult to wean them from their wrong ideas but there is no-one who cannot be changed by repeated instruction. If they obey the fixed regulations, foreigners will long enjoy a carefree life in China, free of anxiety, wrinkled foreheads and heart-corroding grief. I hope they will all enjoy peace and happiness. But if they become enslaved to greed (and) ignore the penalties for lawlessness ….. I can only allow the law to take its course.


“Whatever is commercially right, cannot be morally wrong.” Attributed to a ‘principal merchant of London’ by the Editor of Canton Register, Vol 12 No 50 – 10th December 1839. This statement reveals the influence of Utilitarianism as the philosophy of commercial men, an influence that continues to this day.


“A wise man has reminded us that ‘in any controversy, the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for the truth and are merely striving for ourselves’” Canton Register Vol 15 No 28. 5th July 1842


“Most smuggling occurs at the Customs House,” Canton Register Editor


“Those who dictate the extent of their obedience are not the governed.” An adage of serfdom recalled by Robert Scott, Commander of the Abercromby Robinson in a letter in the 24th October 1837 edition of the Canton Register.


“Who has ever heard of justice laying her hands on a Foreign Secretary?” John Fisher Murray in his book ‘The Chinese and the (British) Ministry,’ 1840, attributing the opium crisis to Lord Palmerston.


“This endless war has revealed a perpetual truism – that there is an intimate connection between foreign policy and the happiness of the people.” The Edinburgh Review, quoted in an article dated 19th May 1810. The ‘endless war’ referred to is of course the 20+ years of war between monarchy and democracy that was known to generations of Europeans through the 19th century as the Great War.


“We have to invest in conquest before we can reap the advantages in revenue and trade.” Randle Jackson, a Director of the East India Company, in an Address to the Shareholders at India House, 5thMay 1812.


“The inequalities of rank and wealth in this country (Britain) are more the result of each man’s own exertions than of a controlling institution behind the state. Men become great through the talents they acquire. They become rich through perseverance. Many of our rich men began their careers in shops and counting houses. They built their careers by assiduous personal industry and began to employ others to promote the provision of their goods and services. This happy inequality, a dependence of one man on another, improved both of them. More talent and industry equals more reward and more inequality. Hitherto we have thought this a peculiar feature, distinctive of our own society. It is ascribed to the protecting influence of law on property. We feel that to pull out the thread of this fabric that has been gradually woven over the centuries by successive generations and to submit to a new system of equality is a matter of gross folly.” Justice John Reeves JP, Chairman of The Association for Protecting the Liberty and Property of Subjects against Republicans and Levellers

“The trading system at Canton provides no alternatives for us. We either completely submit to the Chinese or we go away.” Official Correspondence Sir George B Robinson to Palmerston, 25th March 1835.


“The grievous humiliations and ruinous exactions to which the English were exposed at Canton were in reality self-imposed.” James Matheson in The Present Position and Prospects of the British Trade with China.

“Every Chinese official deals with foreigners in two ways – either with justice or with favour. Those who show contempt receive justice; those who co-operate are favoured.“ Commissioner Lin’s reply to Capt Elliot, 29th March 1839


“….. the Chinese would not probably carry their estimate of our magnanimity so far as to expect that, if they were by violence to shut us out from their trade or by a series of oppressive and vexatious proceedings to force us to abandon it, we should remain perfectly passive under the great losses and privations that must ensue”. Instructions to Lord Amherst, 1812

Friend of China, 21.4.42 edition

The Chinese are different. They write with the wrong end of the quill; their books begin where ours end. Old men fly kites while little boys watch. They shave their heads instead of their faces. The men have longer finger nails than the women. Their dates are back to front. The compass points to the south. Their directions are east north or west south instead of vice versa. When mourning they wear white instead of black. The corpse is carried to burial at great speed accompanied by deafening noise. When entertaining guests they wear hats. The left hand seat is the seat of honour at a feast. We wear pantaloons over stockings they wear stockings over pantaloons (and display their garters). We keep our shoes black, they white. We strike our bells on the inside, they on the outside. The feathers in their hats hang down. They drink their wine hot. Editor – Instead of getting drunk they ethereally inhale the fumes of an agreeable exhilarant thus realising an oblivion of care and forgetfulness of sorrow at a far less sacrifice of health.

Canton Register Vol 12 No 15 – Tuesday 9th April 1839

Editorial – Chinese language (Mandarin) has only 330 syllables but they are expressed in four tones to produce 1,320 meanings. Some sounds can have up to ten different meanings. In Les Lettres Edificantes et Curieuses, Father Bourgeois tried, after ten months residence as a priest in Peking, to preach in Chinese.

He said afterwards “God knows how much this first Chinese sermon cost me. This language resembles no other. Forget declensions and verb conjugations. Chinese words are substantive – adjective, verb, singular, plural, masculine and feminine – they are all the same. The hearer must consider the circumstances to guess the intended meaning. The 300+ sounds may be spoken in so many different ways that they encompass the meaning of 80,000 words. There is no general rule for word-order. You must learn the stock phrases to get the common word-orders and, if you do not, not one man in four will understand you.

“I’ll give you an example. I was taught that shou means book. I assumed that whenever shou was said, ‘book’ was meant. Wrong. The next time I heard shou it was ‘tree’. I adjusted my understanding accordingly but it was unavailing. Shou was also used to express ‘great heat’, ‘to relate’, the ‘Aurora’, ‘to be accustomed’, ‘loss of a wager’ and many other less important meanings.

“I thought to clarify my confusion by reference to the printed word. Wrong again. The written language is quite different from the spoken language.

“A fundamental difficulty for the foreign student is the tones – each sound can be said in five different ways but the distinctions between these tones are not rigorously fixed – they depend on the words temporarily juxtaposed. The language is spoken so quickly, the sounds commonly elided, that little meaning can be adduced. One is supposed to move fluently from an aspirated sound to an even one, from a whistling note to an in-drawn one. Sometimes you speak from the palate, sometimes from the throat and more or less always through the nose.

“I practised my sermon fifty times on my servant before I was sufficiently confident to preach it publicly. The congregation were wonderfully patient. Although they understood no more than 30% they congratulated me on the attempt.

“The satire is a popular Chinese entertainment. If you study the characters, the story has a pure and sublime meaning; if you attend solely to the tones, the meanings become ludicrous or obscene.”

Comments are closed.