China's Story - William Griffis

In addition to providing a chronological history of China, the author delves into some detail regarding customs, art, and special incidents in order to give flavor and insight into the unique Chinese culture. Topics such as tea drinking, foot-binding, and various superstitions are explained as well as the character of the Chinese government. This book was written during the midst of the Chinese republic, and gives and interesting perspective into western hopes for China in the early 20th century.

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[Cover] from China's Story by William Griffis
[Title] from China's Story by William Griffis


[Title Page] from China's Story by William Griffis
[Copyright Page] from China's Story by William Griffis
[Dedication] from China's Story by William Griffis


Herewith I send forth a little book on China, which I trust may help Asian and American people to understand each other better. History shows that the human nature of the Chinese and of ourselves is the same. I have gone below the surface, letting the Chinese speak for themselves, chiefly through their myths, folklore, art, literature, institutions, and annals.

My initial interest in China came through traditions of my grandfather, one of the first, as a merchant navigator, to carry the American flag to Canton, thence bringing home pretty curiosities, which, with my father's stories of his many voyages, provoked a desire to know more of the mighty hermit nation. I visited many times the great Chinese Museum in my native city, Philadelphia, formed by Nathan Dunn, an American merchant long in China. There were life-sized groups of human figures, male and female, picturing all classes, from emperor and mandarins to cobblers and beggars, representations of shops and crafts, and a varied collection of genuine objects of use and beauty, intelligently selected and brought from the Middle Kingdom. Two Chinese gentlemen, in silk and nankeen dress and bamboo hats, explained things. Even then I longed to know more of what the Chinese thought and felt, than of what they made, ate, bought, or sold. Happily, besides browsing in my father's library and hearing him tell of his experiences in Pacific seas, I had the pleasure, later, of living, as pioneer educator, four years in the Far East. I saw the Chinese also in Japan and California, met and talked with scores, possibly hundreds, of men and women long resident in or coming from nearly every part of China, and with scholars who had spent their lives in original research.

The witness of a single person, or book, concerning so vast and varied a land as China is worth but little. Yet complex as is its hoary civilization, the few leading principles holding its millions together are very simple. Sympathy is the key to interpretation. Every age has had its ruling ideas. China, to the critical student, does not present that picture of monotonous inflexibility which Occidentals—too often proud of their dense ignorance of this great country and civilization—conjure up and apparently delight to dwell on.

Though in the course of years digesting the standard and ephemeral works on China and making some acquaintance with its texts, I have relied mostly for help upon scholars whom I have known personally, at home or in the Orient, such as Messrs. Legge, Williams, Allen, Macgowan, McCartee, Williamson, Martin, Yung Wing,Hart, Mayers, Dennys, Ross, Holcombe, Wilson, Hirth, Pott, Schlegel, de Groot, Cordier, Terrien de la Couperie, and others, or as correspondents,—too many to name,—besides Chinese, Japanese, and Korean native men of learning, who have kindly answered many questions. The limits of this little book permit only an outline of reference, description, and philosophy of the subject. My ambition is to lead my readers to the study of more serious works on China.

The West has as much to learn as to teach, to receive as to give, from the Orient. May this nation with an unexampled past and the United States of America ever abide in peace and friendship.

W. E .G


Preface to the Edition of 1922

In sending forth the new edition of "China's Story," the author ventures to beg from his countrymen—China's best friends—patience with the oldest of nations. Having lived to see very much the same scenes arising from the meeting of Orient and Occident—with the travail and the many sorrows, arising of necessity during the rejuvenation of Japan and Korea—the persons, things, and events of the past seventy years in "the Middle Kingdom" do not seem so very different in any one case from the others. Nor should we despair of China's redemption in time from superstition and disorganization, with the tangles of warring factions, and the old forms of darkness and delusion.

One of the trustworthy signs of a new life in these three great nations is that of the growing pains caused by a new consciousness of brother-hood with all the world. This is seen in a sensitiveness unknown of old. Each people is now jealous of the praise or blame bestowed on any one of them by Americans, and all seek this Yankee nation's help and favor. Let us Occidentals give them time for adjustment to new conditions and deliverance from bad precedents and examples. Let our first President's hope, expressed in his Farewell Address, that the blessings which we enjoy may be shared to and by others, be fulfilled. To this end American traditions, reinforced by the Washington Conference of 1922, point.

W. E .G


[Contents, 1 of 2] from China's Story by William Griffis
[Contents, 2 of 2] from China's Story by William Griffis
[Illustrations] from China's Story by William Griffis