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A Chinaman On Oxford
by [?]

“Yes, I am a student,” said the Chinaman, “And I came here to study the English manners and customs.”

We were seated on the top of the electric tram which goes to Hampton Court. It was a bitterly cold spring day. The suburbs of London were not looking their best.

“I spent three days at Oxford last week,” he said.

“It’s a beautiful place, is it not?” I remarked.

The Chinaman smiled. “The country which you see from the windows of the railway carriages,” he said, “on the way from Oxford to London strikes me as being beautiful. It reminded me of the Chinese Plain, only it is prettier. But the houses at Oxford are hideous: there is no symmetry about them. The houses in this country are like blots on the landscape. In China the houses are made to harmonise with the landscape just as trees do.”

“What did you see at Oxford?” I asked.

“I saw boat races,” he said, “and a great many ignorant old men.”

“What did you think of that?”

“I think,” he said, “the young people seemed to enjoy it, and if they enjoy it they are quite right to do it. But the way the older men talk about these things struck me as being foolish. They talk as if these games and these sports were a solemn affair, a moral or religious question; they said the virtues and the prowess of the English race were founded on these things. They said that competition was the mainspring of life; they seemed to think exercise was the goal of existence. A man whom I saw there and who, I learnt, had been chosen to teach the young on account of his wisdom, told me that competition trained the man to sharpen his faculties; and that the tension which it provoked is in itself a useful training. I do not believe this. A cat or a boa constrictor will lie absolutely idle until it perceives an object worthy of its appetite; it will then catch it and swallow it, and once more relapse into repose without thinking of keeping itself ‘in training.’ But it will lie dormant and rise to the occasion when it occurs. These people who talked of games seem to me to undervalue repose. They forget that repose is the mother of action, and exercise only a frittering away of the same.”

“What did you think,” I asked, “of the education that the students at Oxford receive?”

“I think,” said the Chinaman, “that inasmuch as the young men waste their time in idleness they do well; for the wise men who are chosen to instruct the young at your places of learning, are not always wise. I visited a professor of Oriental languages. His servant asked me to wait, and after I had waited three quarters of an hour, he sent word to say that he had tried everywhere to find the professor in the University who spoke French, but that he had not been able to find him. And so he asked me to call another day. I had dinner in a college hall. I found that the professors talked of many things in such a way as would be impossible to children of five and six in our country. They are quite ignorant of the manners and customs of the people of other European countries. They pronounce Greek and Latin and even French in the same way as English. I mentioned to one of them that I had been employed for some time in the Chinese Legation; he asked me if I had had much work to do. I said yes, the work had been heavy. ‘But,’ he observed, ‘I suppose a great deal of the work is carried on directly between the Governments and not through the Ambassadors.’ I cannot conceive what he meant or how such a thing could be possible, or what he considered the use and function of Embassies and Legations to be. They most of them seemed to take for granted that I could not speak English: some of them addressed me in a kind of baby language; one of them spoke French. The professor who spoke to me in this language told me that the French possessed no poetical literature, and he said the reason of this was that the French language was a bastard language; that it was, in fact, a kind of pidgin Latin. He said when a Frenchman says a girl is ‘beaucoup belle,’ he is using pidgin Latin. The courtesy due to a host prevented me from suggesting that if a Frenchman said ‘beaucoup belle’ he would be talking pidgin French.