In the June 1851 issue of Household Words, Henry Morley provides a mid-Victorian view of Chinese culture in the course of describing his experience of tea gardens, tea houses, and Chinese cuisine. Morely explains that the "tea-gardens are in the centre of the town; we will go thither and rest. We might have dined with a hospitable townsman, where we could have been present at a theatrical entertainment, in which the Chinese delight like children." The narrowmindedness that usually accompanied Victorian imperial thought appears in Morely's last remark, since he doesn't make atoying all clear why taking pleasure in "theatrical entertainment" should be childish or childlike — a thought that comes immediately to mind when one recalls the passion of Dickens, Collins, and their friends for such entertainment, both amateur and professional! The writer for Household Words

But a dinner in this country is a work of many hours; the list is very long of things that we should have to touch or eat. Chinese eat almost anything; their carte includes birds' nests, delicate meal-fed puppies, sea-slugs, sharks' fins and tails, frogs, worms, lizards, tortoises, and water-snakes, with many things that we should better understand, and a great many disguised vegetables. A Chinese dinner is so tediously long that we escape it altogether. Milk is not used; it is thought improper to take it from the calves; and meat plays no very large part in the Chinese diet. During our late war it was seriously stated, by several advisers of the Emperor, that to forbid the English tea and rhubarb would go a great way to destroy the nation; "for it is well known that the barbarians feed grossly on the flesh of animals, by which their bodies are so bound and obstructed," that rhubarb and warm tea were necessary to be taken, daily, as correctives. Now we are in the tea-gardens, and have passed through a happy crowd, sipping tea, smoking, eating melon pips, walking or looking at the jugglers. Into a fairy-like house of bamboo, perched over water, we ascend. Here is an elegant apartment, we claim as private. We recline, and take our cups of tea; the cups that have been are wiped, not washed; for washing, say the people here, would spoil their capacity for preserving the pure flavour of this delicate young Hyson; upon a spoonful of which, placed in the cup, hot water is now poured.

References

Morley, Henry. "Our Phantom Ship. China." Household Words Vol. 3, No. 66 [28 June 1851], p. 331.


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Last modified 24 June 2006