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Ancestor-Worship in Modern Chinese Society
Of all human institutions, religious beliefs and practices are the most tenacious, so that we find in modern society interesting survivals of early times lingering in the mind and thought of man. They have powerfully influenced social development, but they have been constantly modified by the progress of thought and intellect. It can hardly be realised nowadays that the early religious conceptions of supernatural powers, the products of man's creative imagination working through the instincts of fear, curiosity and subjection, have been the great generators and supporters of custom, which is the first requisite of society.
In most primitive religions, the fearful elements predominated, and the gods, mostly unseen spirits concentrated in, or manifested through, external objects, assumed a cruel and bloodthirsty character. Religion rose to a higher plane when tender emotion in the form of gratitude, mingled more and more with awe, blended with it, and converted it to reverence. It must have been a great step forward in the advance of civilisation when patriarchal man, out of reverence, began to worship the spirits of those who were once, like himself, human beings, and who had been taking a keen interest in his well-being. Since ancestor-worship is essentially a product of a patriarchal society where blood kinship through males is all-important, it loses its importance as societies based on other ties are formed.
In China where the patriarchal society is still in place, we must not be surprised to find that ancestor-worship is observed throughout the whole country and plays an exceedingly significant part in family life. At present, as in the early days of Greece and Rome, the welfare of the dead is considered by the Chinese to be dependent on the daily ministrations of his living descendants, and they in their turn, according to the still prevailing belief, owe their success and prosperity to the active benevolence of the spirits of their ancestors.
It is not the man himself that is ennobled by his success in life, his virtues or his learning, but his ancestors. The very first lesson that a child receives in school is contained in the few words: "Make yourself sublime and famous so that.your parents are honoured; this is glory for the past and triumph for the future." Thus the interests of each generation are intimately bound up with those of the generations that have gone before and of those that will come after.
Hence in order to secure his own happiness as well as that of his ancestors and descendants, a man's first duty and care is to bring up a family that will carry on the family name and the ancestral cult. It is thus that the Chinese institution of marriage and the duties of parenthood are surrounded by the most solemn social sanctions which are embodied in traditional public opinion and in custom, in formal laws and in the rites and doctrines of the marriage system which is peculiar to the Chinese.
The Chinese marriage, it is interesting to notice, is considered an affair between two families and not two individuals, and, unlike countries in which the civil or common law prevails, marriage has never been, until recently, regulated by religion. The parental instinct is extraordinarily strong among the Chinese, and voluntary celibacy and family restriction are never practised and never tolerated. This constitutes the force that impels the Chinese to actions which involve great self-sacrifice, in the form of suppression of the narrower egoistic tendencies and of unremitting toil on behalf of the off-spring. A proverb says: The father earns while the son spends, and while these sacrifices and exertions are no doubt a necessary condition of the continued existence and flourishing of any society, they in this case explain the hard and joyless conditions of life of the great mass of the Chinese people.
It is the solemn preoccupation of male descendants to offer food and. sacrifices to the ancestors and to keep "alight the lamp of the family", as the Chinese express it. A proper burial and these daily ministrations of offerings are necessary for the rest and peace of the dead. In view of such sacrifices, the names of the dead are inscribed on wooden tablets, called the spirit-tablets, into which the spirits of the dead are supposed to enter in order to commune with their posterity during the ceremony. These tablets are placed in the household worshipping hall, and those of the great grand ancestors are placed in a great ancestral hall which is for members of the same lineal descent.
Twice a year, in spring and autumn, a grand sacrifice is offered by the male descendents both at the graves and in the household and the great ancestral halls. No more solemn duty weighs upon the Chinese than that of attending these ceremonies. Confucius says: "Sacrifice to the dead, as if they were present, and to the spirits as if they were there." It is remarkable that these two ceremonies of the year play such an important part in the minds of the Chinese and in the welfare of the family and the society. It is at these two periods of the year that every member of the family assembles in the household, and every member of the same clan in the great ancestral hall.
Happy reunions strengthen the ties of relationship and this accounts for the fact that the Chinese patriarchal family system is able to maintain its place and significance. Childlessness is regarded as the greatest calamity, and as Mencius points out, "Of the three filial impieties, childlessness is the greatest." In case a man is childless, he adopts a male child, preferably one of the same clan, whose duty it would be, as if his own son, to continue after his death, the family rites and to keep the family name alive. The right to inherit a dead man's property is coextensive with the duty of performing his obsequies, and female descendants, who are precluded from such duties, are seldom allowed to inherit any property.
It seems rather eccentric to pass the property, instead of to the daughters who are of the same blood, to the adopted child, who in most cases is an outsider, and when we consider the policy and aim of the Chinese inheritance from the stand point of keeping the family property from getting into the hands of strangers, we find that it obviously defeats its own ends. But it must be remembered that the adopted child can carry on the family name, and that he, as a male descendant, can perform the worshipping ceremonies, and that, if we study the subject a little further, it is by adoption that the transition has been made possible from an agnatic society based on blood ties to one based on propinquity.
In China, ancestor-worship is characteried by its intense and rock-like resistance to change, and we see at the present day the same tendency in mind as it was a thousand years ago. The family system has been regarded as the cause of the conservatism and stagnation of China, as it tends to check the spread of the habit of independent thought and action among the people. But it must be noticed that it is the family system that preserves the immense stability and latent power of this ancient country.
My Strangest Dream
"When will this beastly slump go away?" I muttered to myself as I sat on a comfortable arm-chair.
"Why? Do you want work?" I turned around and perceived a gentleman, well dressed.
"Yes sir, I am out to seek work," I replied.
"Here is my card, come and see me at my office to-morrow morning", the gentleman said and went away.
I glanced at the card, which bore the name of Watkin.
The next morning I went to see Mr. Watkin at his firm. I met him just as he was entering his office.
"You are punctual young man," said Mr. Watkin. I followed him and entered the office. After a few questions I was engaged as a clerk.
I worked for many months and one day Mr. Watkin told us that he was going Home. A few days later in Mr. Watkin's office was another gentleman. He was Mr. Gusbag, our new employer. At first he was kind to everybody in the office, and then by and by, he began to complain about our work. Though we worked hard, still Mr. Gusbag complained.
One day he sent for me and when I entered the office, he said, "Look here, young man, if you do not satisfy me in your work, I will have your salary increased, but if otherwise I'll have you sacked!" I could only stare at him with astonishment. What did he mean? If I did not satisfy him he would increase my pay!
The next day was a Saturday, and it was exactly at three that Mr. Gusbag sent for me again. As soon as I entered the office, my employer thundered, "You have not satisfied me with your work, and for that your pay is increased! Now go!" I walked out suddenly and went home. When I reached home my landlord was there waiting for me.
"Hi", he shouted, "You owe me a month's rent you know? Fifty dollars. Here they are".
With these words he threw fifty dollars at my feet and walked away. I was astounded. The landlord paying me rent, instead of my doing so. Next I walked to the talkies, and while taking a ticket, I noticed a pickpocket. He was putting a wad of notes into my pocket. I turned to call him but he was gone.
After the show, I went to a hotel and ordered a fine dinner. After having the dinner, the bill was sent to me. Ten dollars? I went to the counter to pay the bill, and instead I received a ten dollar note. I was about to explain that my bill was ten dollars when the manager came in and ordered me to go out.
Suddenly a beggar approached me and thrust his hand into my pocket and placed there a purse full of money. I was stunned and amazed, I did not believe my own eyes. I called after him but he had disappeared.
What on earth did it mean? Money for nothing. I was just to receive another shock. By this time I was filled with money. I returned home, and the first thing that I saw was MONEY. Money from floor to the roof. How it came to be there I knew not. I was dog tired, and very soon I was in bed, sleeping like a dog.
Suddenly I woke up. It was pitch dark. I heard money rattling. I slowly walked to the place where I heard the noise. An astonishing sight met my eyes. A masked man was pouring money on the floor! Money that was worth the ransom of ten kings. Without a word I jumped on him.
"Take the money away - or I will send for the police" I said angrily.
"Not for the wide world, - the money shall remain where it is," the masked man replied.
"Well, we shall see", I said, and with those words I gave him an upper cut which landed exactly on his jaw. He fell and was up again. He sprang at me. The force was so great that we both fell to the ground. After a struggle I managed to lay my hands on his throat.
"Now, will you take the money?" I asked "If you won't, I will choke you."
"No!" was the reply, "Do your worst, I am not afraid." That made me more angry, and the next moment I gave him a proper shaking, holding him by the neck.
I woke up to find my father shouting at me. My hands were on my brother's throat.
To the Westerner there has always been an irresistible charm in Eastern travel. It was more so a century ago as, in those days, owing to the lack of all the facilities for swift communication the East was to him a land far away, a land outside the ordinary limits of his world. Therefore, helped by imagination, the East, especially the near East, was to him an unknown and enchanted land with all its harems, minarets, yashmaks and scimitars. His imagination might have been fanned by the Arabian Nights with their descriptive glamour and splendour of the East and by travellers who had the happy opportunity to tour or sojourn in this wondrous land, to him a veritable Paradise on Earth.
Such a book on eastern travels is Eothen. This volume of Kinglake has been acclaimed one of the most delightful books of travel in that language. The style no less than the matter is attractive, piquant, out of the ordinary. The writer tells us that he has failed twice in giving an account of his travel in the Levant, but at last he struck a happy chord. He wrote the book as if he was writing it solely for the benefit of an intimate friend and not to a censorious and critical reading public, and therefore the book contains that touch of intimacy not often found in many books, and it is certain that the popularity of the book is in great measure due to this sense of openness and frankness, this free and easy style.
The matter is no less laudable. Eastern conversation, eastern scenes and events are clothed with a garb of language that is seldom worn. The author, however, did not describe at length the splendour of monuments and Eastern spectacles. He wrote only what interested him, his comforts and discomforts, his dealing with Orientals, his excellent servant and dragomen, Myserri and Dthemttri and his personal impressions. We are not given eulogies on this or that piece of Eastern architecture. We are not bored with the conventional phrases with which an Englishman conveys his wonder when witnessing some eastern sight. All we are given are what interested him as a human being not as a commissioned officer or a statistician, expressed in his own simple way.
The journey was performed at a period when the Near East was in the turmoil of a great crisis in history. The Syrian and Greek peasants were under the yoke of Turkish imperialism. It was a time when the emblem of the crescent and star had not yet been bedimmed, when the Turkish dominion and tyranny was at its zenith and when Christian subjects were contemptuously trodden underfoot by Turkish prejudice and bigotry. However Russia and the Western nations were now beginning to have a political interest in the Levant.
Kinglake met with difficulties inevitable to travelling in a foreign land and these were heightened by the peculiarities of the last named. In order to procure provisions it behooved a dragoman to use his sword in threatening a trembling peasantry to submit eggs and milk. However much the traveller resented this unjust means he must perforce surrender to this custom as this was the only way food could be obtained after a day's hard travel. Money was no solution to the difficulty.
Kinglake had naturally many adventures. Once he was left stranded on the desert near Suez and only his presence of mind and courage excavated him. Another time he was led into the wilderness of ancient Philistia by a Nazarene guide and on another occasion he had a long interview with Lady Hester Stanhope, who after the death of her beloved uncle, the younger Pitt, settled in the East, Queen of a citadel and the object of fear and reverence of surrounding Arabs. The author could not choose but listen to her eccentric claims of the occult and prophetic.
He was in Cairo when the worst plague of the century was raging with all its terrifying vehemence in the Eastern city. He took a special pride in his defiance of contagion and derided the foolish notions of the European population regarding infection. He was, indeed, surprised however to discover that before he had left Cairo that all the persons he had come into contact with, his medico, his landlord, his donkey boy, his banker and his magician (for he had one to demonstrate to, though in vain, the magical art of Eastern wizards) had all died of the plague! While remaining in Cairo he was ill once but, thank goodness, it was not of the incurable plague or else there would be no Eothen to delight posterity.
So Kinglake went on, now riding on horseback and perching on the hump of the camel, enjoying himself to the fullest; now poking fun at Eastern customs and now in serious mood describing the scenes in connection with the life of the Saviour. But humour was his real mood; the plague was just fun to him, and ancient relics of bygone civilizations just so many stones.
There are so many things worthy of mention which cannot be inserted in a sketch like this; the only and obvious way to enjoy the book is to read it and the reader is guaranteed against any dull moment. The glory of English prose would be further enhanced if there are more books of this description.
Kinglake in his Eothen, which is often considered to be one of the best books or possibly the best book of travel in the English language, shows to the best possible advantage his power of observation and of setting down in black and white what he has observed. He has several chapters in the book which deal with particular topics and of these, that on the Greek Mariners is one of the best.
According to him, the most interesting of all the male Greeks were the Mariners, because their pursuits and social conditions were very nearly the same as those of their famous ancestors. One might presume that the occupation of commerce must have lessened their scholastic abilities which were inherited from their ancestors. That might have been the case if they had conducted their mercantile affairs systematically. When the Greek Mariners start out on a voyage they have no fixed destination and "where they will, there they go".
The first care of the Greeks when they set out on a voyage is to procure for their vessel the protection of some European authority. This is usually carried on with some intrigue and soon the flag of the country, to which the European belongs, is seen flying at the mast of the ship.
The crew are not paid but all have a share in the venture. They choose their own captain, who can work the vessel in favourable weather but cannot do anything during a gale of wind. The cook and the mate are also elected by the crew. Strange to say, the captain and the cook in Kinglake's ship always exchanged work for the cook nearly always spent his time meddling with the quadrant, while the captain attended to soup making. Their mate was by race a Hydriot, "a native of that island rock that grows nothing but marines and mariners' wives". This mate's duty was not to act as mate but to act as a counter-captain or leader of the opposition.
The Greek Mariners resembled their sea-faring ancestors in many respects. The mode of navigation has undergone very little change, except for the fact that the younger generation make use of modern inventions such as the compass. The Greek Mariners are God-fearing, just like their ancestors, but instead of worshipping Greek gods they worship St. Nicholas their patron.
They do not venture far out to the sea but always remain close to the shore. "They have a most unsailor-like love of the land". This practice is believed to be a very dangerous one by the Europeans, as indeed it is. Another dangerous practice which is observed by the Greek Mariners is that of relying upon no winds. If there is a wind they go along with it and all goes well until a gale arises. Then they fume at St. Nicholas and stop sailing. Their unsystematic sailing often makes them toss about on the sea in a most amazing nmnner.
The crew of the ship on which Kinglake was sailing was particularly fond of listening to long stories. Most of their stories were like the stories in the Arabian Nights. When asked where they got the stories from, they replied that they had been handed down unwritten from Greek to Greek.
The Riddle of Life
How infinitely small is our knowledge! How vain is mankind about its intelligence. Man prides himself that he understands and can interpret the riddle of the Universe.
Man, thou art a puny part of the great whole! Thy learning has made thee foolish. The universe belies you and your heart refutes the conceit of your mind. What is the verdict of the vastest mind? Silence; the book of fate is closed on you.
You are like butterflies that flit about settling on the exterior of flowers, and knowing nothing of what is inside. You seek in vain to disperse the cloud of mysticism that envelopes you. You are engaged in inventing a thousand things that will one day turn upon you and rend you. You kill one another and allow yourselves to be food for ravenous birds. You groan under your troubles and bewilderments and with a quaking voice say, "All is well with the world and us."
But we are unable to solve the riddle of the Universe. The riddle had presented difficulty to philosophers in the past and still refuses to reveal its secret to us today. We can no doubt interpret the phenomenon; that is merely the visible exterior of the veil that encloses within it the secret of the Universe, but when we probe into the dark interior we are lost. Each of us imagines that we see the secret, but it is a mere phantasm of the real secret.
How did we come to exist and from where, and what is our ultimate destination? We can show with eerie accurateness how life evolved from a primitive protoplasm, but when we are asked how life originated we shake our heads. Life must have originated somehow, and hence we try to solve the difficulty by simply asserting that God made it or that it sprang from inorganic matter and some simply say that life was brought here from some other planet. Yet we boast about ourselves when we know not how and whence we came.
And when we die what happens to us? Do we (our personality) cease to exist altogether or do we survive in some form or other? Is that personality something apart from this material body or is it merely life? Some say that we survive, though people have different conceptions of the manner and state of our survival. Others and, especially, scientists who speculate just as the others do when they are out of the field of science, discredit such a belief. Both the parties bring forth convincing proofs. They cannot both be right; but they can both be wrong. Some one said "Four thousand volumes of metaphysics will not teach us what the soul is" and so far he is right. We know not, in spite of all our profound knowledge, the beginning and the end of Life.
The same can be said of matter. Did it originate from nothing or was it created by some Power which may be called God? Here then is a doubt cast upon the existence of a God. Though God is conceived in different aspects by each nation yet all believe in a God or Gods. But there are as many who bring convincing and almost better proofs for the denial of God than the theist brings to prove his existence.
Voltaire tells a story of the Good Brahmin who says:
"I have been studying these forty years…. I believe that I am composed of matter, but I have never been able to satisfy myself what it is that produces thought. I am ignorant whether my understanding is a simple faculty like that of walking or digesting or if I think with my head in the same manner as I take hold of a thing with my hands….. I talk a great deal, and when I have done speaking I remain confounded and ashamed of what I have said."
This Universe of ours is enveloped in. a cloak of mystery and the solving of one riddle brings to light a new problem. What then is our present knowledge but a grain of sand on the seashore.
He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes.
Tormented atoms in a bed of mud
Devoured by death, a mockery of fate
But thinking Atoms, whose far-seeing eyes
Guided by thoughts have measured the faint stars
This world, this theatre of pride and wrong
Swarms with sick fools who talk of happiness…"
The Allegorical Description of Sin and Death.
Sin and death as represented by Milton are a most revolting and horrid pair. The poet desired to depict these two as horrible offsprings but to depict them with the morality of a strict puritan.
Satan the arch-enemy according to the decision of the council embarked on a great enterprise. Having directed his flight towards the entrance of Hades, he came in sight of its walls. He finally reached the entrance each side of which was guarded by a horrid looking figure.
One seemed to bear the shape of a lovely female down to the waist but the rest of her body resembled a goat; all round this figure there were a number of hounds which were continually battening on her entrails.
The other was an indefinable shape with indistinguishable limbs. It looked like a shadow of darkness. It was as grim as Hades itself and seemed no less ferocious than the Greek Furies.
At the approach of the arch-fiend this horrid figure went to meet him. Satan fearlessly viewed its approach and wondered what it could be. With looks of disdain Satan addressed it,
That darest, though grim and terrible, advance
Thy miscreated front athwart my way"
At this inquiry the form replied,
Who first broke peace in heaven and faith till then, unbroken."
He also asked Satan the cause of his visit to that region where he had supreme power, and ordered him to return to the burning lake. A struggle would have ensued had not the half-womanly shape flung herself forward with loud exclamations,
Against thy only son? What, fury O son,
Possess thee to bend that mortal dart
Against thy father's head?"
These words amazed Satan and the guardian of the gates explained saying "Do you then remember me no longer? Am I now hideous to your sight, I was once beautiful?" She also explained how when he was surrounded by conspirator arch-angels he felt a sudden pain and she arose, created out of his brain amidst tongues of flames. She was named - Sin. Satan as well as other angels became enamoured of her. She was hurled down with the rebel angels but the charge of the Key of the gates of Hades was entrusted to her. She remained at the gates of Hell lonely and sorrowful until with pain and suffering she gave birth to that other hideous form whose parent was Satan and whose name was Death. This offspring pursued her with his dreadful spear. She fled crying "Death" and all the caverns of Hades re-echoed the word Death! He even then pursued her, more driven by lust than by anger, and in consequence of his hateful embraces she gave issue to a pack of Hell hounds who represent pain and anguish.
To this explanation Satan replied asking her to present him to their handsome offspring, the fruit of their union. He promised them joyous hours in happier climes for he intended to achieve their freedom and set at liberty not only she and her son but also all the fallen angelic warriors.
The arch-enemy told of his intended flight to a new region inhabited by a new race of beings called Mankind, at these words the two forms laughed with malignant hate, Sin saying that she did not owe any allegiance to the King of Heaven who condemned her to that dismal region and promising to assist her own incestuous parent, opened the gates. All her power could not avail to close them again and open, indeed, must they remain forever.
There was once a king of Syracuse whose name was Hierio. He was a very proud king and wanted to wear the biggest crown in the world. So he called in his famous goldsmith to make his crown and gave him ten pounds of pure gold. "Take this", he said, "and fashion it into a crown which must be the best in the world."
"I shall do as you wish," said the goldsmith. "Here I receive ten pounds of pure gold; within ninety days I will return to you the finished crown".
Ninety days later, the goldsmith brought the crown. It was a piece of beautiful work and all who saw it said that it was the best crown they ever saw. There was in the king's court a very wise man named Archimedes who was asked to examine the crown.
"Well, what do you think of the crown?" asked Hierio.
"It is indeed very beautiful, but it does not appear to have the same rich colour as pure gold. The goldsmith might have kept out a pound or two of gold and made up the weight by adding silver or brass," said Archimedes.
"Is there any way to find out whether the goldsmith really cheated me, or whether he gave me back my gold?"
"I do not know," was the answer.
One day Archimedes was thinking of this question when he was getting ready for a bath. The tub was full to the brim and when he got into it a quantity of wafer flowed out.
"How much water did I displace?" he asked himself. "I displaced a bulk of water equal to the bulk of my body. Gold is much heavier than silver. Ten pounds of pure gold will not make so great a bulk as say seven pounds of gold mixed with three pounds of silver. But if it is partly gold and partly silver it will displace a larger bulk. I have it at last".
Forgetting everything he leapt from the bath and ran through the streets shouting, "Eureka! Eureka! Eureka!" which means "I have found it!" The crown was tested. It was found to displace much more water than ten pounds of pure gold. The guilt was the goldsmith's. But whether he was punished or not, I do not know nor does it matter.
The Bridge of Monkeys
There was once a great hero named Rama, who lived in India. Wherever he went the people adored him; more than that, the birds and animals loved him dearly.
One day, Rama went to a distant court, and there saw a lovely princess called Sita. He went through seven long trials and performed seven brave deeds in order to show his father, the king, that he was worthy of her, and in the end he won and married her. He took her away to his hunting lodge in the forest and there lived very happily.
But Rama never forgot that he had a great enemy called Ravanna who had tried to win Sita and failed. Just as Rama was the friend of all the forest folk, so Ravanna had followers among the wicked demons who lived in India in those far-off days. The lovely princess was never left unguarded and though Ravanna tried to kill the hero and steal his bride, he did not succeed.
At last he got his demon friends to help him. They sent a wonderful golden deer into the forest, such a deer as had never been seen in India. At the time, Rama's friends and servants were elsewhere, hunting; Sita, knowing that Rama loved a fair chase, begged him to go himself to stalk a deer and bring her the skin. Against his will Rama was persuaded to go. And so, for the first time, Sita was left alone. She was sitting in the doorway, weaving her long and lovely hair into long braids and singing songs about Rama when suddenly a shadow fell across the grass and Ravanna swooped upon her and bore her away.
No words could tell the grief of Rama when he returned from the chase. The birds and beasts spread the news of the hero's distress, and Hanuman the monkey chief tore through the trees to his friend.
"Grieve not, my beloved Rama," cried he, "we will find her."
Now Hanuman, though a monkey, was the son of a god, and had great power. He made a magic circle and called a great council to help. At his summons came all the animals of the jungle, the birds of the air, the wind-spirits sleeping in the grass, the river nymphs from the rushes. But they had not seen Sita. Then he called his own people, the monkey folk; and they had not seen Sita. Alas for Sita!
As Hanuman sat weeping for sorrow, for all loved Sita, there was a whirl of wings, and the king of the vultures shot down like an arrow through the sky.
"I have found her, great Rama," he cried, "Ravanna is carrying her southwards to his own country."
Then Hanuman took Rama on his back and bore him swifter than a hurricane through the trees. All the jungle folk followed; the birds made the air dark overhead; the monkeys swung along in chattering hordes; and so the chase began. They went on and on for miles and miles, until they reached the shore of the Blue Sea. Then the vulture king descended again.
"He has carried her over the strait to Ceylon, great Rama."
Then Hanuman fell again into deep thought. How could that gulf be bridged? An idea came to him. He called the monkey folk together and talked to them like a great general, and the monkeys understood. They began a wild chattering of joy for they were to make the bridge.
One grey and savage leader, as strong as seven giants, leapt to the tallest tree and hung there with his powerful arms. The next ran across his body and clung to him, and the next and the next. The living rope grew and swung like a pendulum, until with a shout the last monkey flung himself on a tree top in Ceylon, and the bridge was made.
Then Hanuman took Rama across, and a great battle took place between the monkey folk and the demons, until at last Ravanna was slain, and the lovely Sita carried safely back.
The Aeroplane as Peacemaker
It is probable that had the Great War not occurred, civil aviation would not have reached the stage in which it is today. The war spurred on the designers of aircraft and of aircraft engines to keep pace with its progress, with the result that what would normally have been accomplished in fifty years was actually done in less than five. Every nation in the world set its cleverest men on the task of developing the flying machine, spending millions on experiments.
The war having ended, many countries sought to make use of those war machines. The first air lines formed employed military aircraft for transport of mail, passengers and freight. The unsuitability, however, of this type of aeroplane for commercial purposes soon became evident. The military machine was built to carry a concentrated load of deadweight such as bombs, ammunition, and guns with a crew of not more than four men. Its capacity, comparatively speaking, was so small that although a ton or more of war equipment could easily be lifted into the air, there was not sufficient stowage space for light but bulky articles, such as a dozen hats for a lady or a couple of full mail bags. The lack of cubic capacity killed the war-type flying machine for commercial purposes.
But the divergence is small and can hardly be said to affect the value of the commercial type for war duties. The commercial type of aeroplane, fitted with engines of the same horsepower as its modern and less bulky sister of battle, will take a slightly smaller bomb load, but a considerably larger cubic load within its capacious frame. The civil type is therefore likely to be as useful in war as it is in peace; the war type, old or new, is of no value commercially.
Every aeroplane is a potential destroyer. The civil flying machine may at times be disguised as a peaceful conveyance of passengers; at other times those same people may be the victims of its bombs. But though it may appear paradoxical to say so, these characteristics of aircraft, combined with the extraordinary facilities afforded for speedy international air traffic, tend to make the flying machine the greatest peacemaker in the world.
Man, whatever his nationality may be, has come to realise that his possessions, however he may cherish and try to protect them, lie open to destruction from the air. Neither armies, navies, nor indeed aircraft can ward off a really determined assault by hostile aircraft upon his country. The aeroplane in its offensive role is always likely at night to circumvent ground and air defences. Aided by directional wireless, the crew of a bombing machine can destroy a city that cannot be seen from the air owing to fog or low clouds. The silencing of engines will add one more anxiety to the defenders of a country, since no warning will be given to them of the approach of aircraft. A silent running engine would mean much more comfort to travellers by air and would certainly make flying more popular. The problem is therefore being investigated by the engine designers in all countries, and will undoubtedly be soon solved. So much for the war aspect.
Turning to the commercial standpoint, we see in Europe thousands of commercial aircraft. The frontiers of every country in Europe are crossed by them at will, and landings take place at all capitals and important cities. With few restrictions, therefore, the air is free in Europe, and the pilots of European airlines know their way well about the continent by day or by night.
Now, do you not perceive that a common level, a general equality, is quickly being reached in this air business which will inevitably result in the abandonment of war as too terrible a set-back to civilisation?
Look at the matter from another viewpoint. Europe, including Great Britain, now possesses about eight thousand aircraft of which about half are civil machines. One thousand of these civil machines are in operation on air routes. America has over five thousand civil aircraft. In an emergency, France, for example, could put into service about two thousand five hundred flying machines, a number that in flight would darken the sun.
Every year these numbers grow greater. In a couple of years, air war between two nations would be equivalent to a battle of modern gunnery. Capitals and business centres would be utterly devastated. The thought of this kind of war is enough to freeze the hot enthusiasm of the war maker.
There are other peaceful signs ahead. The size of aircraft is increasing. A modern machine of the bombing class carries at least ten times the load it did fifteen years ago. The multi-engined aircraft have proved that they can have a large reserve of power available which will enable them to keep in the air with one or more engines stopped.
These flying-boats as they are called, are provided with large, comfortable, and roomy cabins. The size of the land machine - the aeroplane - may possibly be limited owing to the extent of landing ground available, but Nature has provided for the flying boat an aerodrome that is limitless - the sea. Hence to what extent that comparative increase will be maintained is imaginable. Such monsters as these, when man beholds them, may impress upon his mind the menace they would be in a war.
The real value the flying machine affords is particularly noticeable over the comparatively longer distances. The saving of time is the greatest assest of the flying machine. Commercial flying is safe, comparatively cheap and regular, and is not associated with either bodily risk to its passengers, inefficiency of service or irregularity of running.
On the declaration of War all this wonderful network of airlines would stop short - be invisible as it were. Fast mail traffic would at once be disorganised, passenger services by air ended perhaps forever. For, once the commercial aeroplane is used in war it is doubtful if it will ever regain its peaceful status. The man of today would hardly tolerate a war so inexpedient and so detrimental to civilised conveniences.
Ever since civilization was born man has been guided in all spheres of life by certain motives, and one of them most assuredly is the thirst for adventure. This is the same thirst for adventure that led Columbus to brave the unknown dangers of the boisterous Atlantic, and Drake those of the Pacific. The sea itself is one of the playgrounds for the adventurous and one of the ways whereby man has quenched his thirst for adventure has been by engaging in piracy.
To those who are unaware of this fact let it be mentioned that piracy is not a thing of the present but has a history that stretches back to past and even prehistoric periods. Those engaged in piracy are doubtless pirates. A pirate is no less than a highwayman, a robber on the bosom of the unfathomable deep. He is not far different from a spectre ever haunting the broad, wide and seething ocean.
There is evidence of the existence of piracy in Roman days, in days when the Roman Empire stood at the zenith of its power. It will be interesting to know that even Caesar, one of the glowing examples of a soldier, a general and statesman, was held to ransom by pirates. At that time trade flourished chiefly in the Mediterranean. The pirates entered into contract with countries for the dumping of their ill-gotten gains. So complete was their control of the sea, so troublesome were their habits that even.the Roman Empire had to look to its laurels.
Though somehow piracy was suppressed in the Mediterranean, nevertheless it found some fresh quarter wherein it could again survive. The scene of operations then changed over to the era when the English "sea-dogs" were at large on the high seas.
Here patriotism and religion, let alone the thirst of adventure, were the principal motives. The Spaniards were harried wherever possible, with the result that the Spaniards found a veritable thorn in their fresh in the shape of the English "sea-dogs" among whom Sir Francis Drake, the "master-thief of the unknown world", is prominent.
These unruly predatory pirates next find themselves haunting the West Indies especially the Caribbean Sea. Morgan is the outstanding spirit here. In the literary writing of Stevenson and "Q" (Sir Arthur Quiller Couch) we have clear evidence of the operations of pirates, of their profits and ill-gotten gains. Later on, was entertained the fear of the American pirates who were ever the terror of ships plying between England and the West Indies on peaceful trade. By the eighteenth century, piracy died a natural death in the West.
Then came the time when piracy was transferred to Eastern waters. Of course there were pirates, chiefly Malay and Chinese pirates, but they were not so extensive in the depredations of seagoing ships. The Chinese are now at large in the Eastern waters especially in the China Sea. These Chinese pirates are more ruthless and cruel than any who lived before. Their strongholds are on rocky defiles, almost inaccessible from land. From here they issue out on getting wind of the fact that a ship is expected to pass a certain place. They attack it with vigour and by open violence seize the goods on the ships.
They fly away with anything they can lay hands on and in some cases even go so far as to hold prisoners at ransom and to torture them with cruel and wicked forms of punishment. Such then is the injustice, the caprice and rapacity of mankind. In spite of all the attempts to suppress piracy, piracy still reigns supreme. It is far too well organised and too profitable to be put down even with an iron hand.
It serves as an incentive to youths brimming over with adventure to follow the life of the sea. But far greater is its effect on juvenile minds so that even young children play at pirates in their nurseries and young and old are often actuated to participate.
The just and the noble-minded will inveigh against it. It prevents intercourse between countries and prevents the regular supply of provisions. In the manner of holdups on land and sea, one would not be surprised to find, in the near future, holdups in the air.
It is often said that the present unemployment and the economic crisis of the world are the direct outcome of mechanisation. Economists and others maintain that machinery and mechanisation are a curse to mankind; but, on the contrary, our learned friends have not taken into consideration the fact that machinery and mechanisation have lifted man above the level of barbarism.
Mechanisation is something which cannot be resisted and even if we have or are given the opportunity to resist it, we should not be able to do so. In days before mechanisation men found a joy in their work but now it has vanished. Up to the 18th century slavery was the fate of the majority of mankind; but now machinery and mechanisation have come to the rescue of mankind. No man liked to submit himself to the strain of a world in which machinery and mechanical power was unknown. Now a farmer equipped with farming machinery sighs with relief when he thinks of the past methods employed in cultivation.
A world without mechanisation would be a world without civilisation. Without machinery and mechanical power, people have to undergo intolerable slavery. The increase of population by leaps and bounds is entirely due to mechanisation. There is a great gulf of difference between a mechanical and unmechanised world. The mechanised world affords chances for employment and for all sorts of things, but this would not be the case with an unmechanised world.
In recent years the improvements brought about by mechanisation have cheapened labour and, in addition, greatly raised the standard of life. On balancing the advantages and disadvantages of mechanisation, it will be found that the gains realized by machines are greater than the losses. Mechanisation is improving the world and will improve the world in decades to come, to a state of perfection which no human being of today can dream of seeing.
A Veritable Don Quixote
It is not at all requisite that a person should be an eminent bugler in order that he might blow his own trumpet, and consequently the fact that Master Thamby has become a prominent braggart, without ever having swelled the ranks of the V.I.C.C. Band, without ever having handled an ordinary bugle, is nothing sensationally novel. He is an uncouth lad, uncouth in the superlative degree, and possessed of extremely quixotic fancies. He is one in a thousand. He is a veritable Don Quixote.
He is one of those extraordinary students of the first senior class, a class of 32 strong, but by no means the best of the three classes. This class is remarkable in many ways. Its specimens of intellect are so extraordinary and varied that every teacher who resorts to it is prompted to quote, every now and again, such proverbial expressions is "I am casting pearls before swine" and "I can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." Every teacher who comes into contact with these extraordinary specimens is so peculiarly impressed that he almost always styles them as "lunatics". Every teacher makes it a point, whenever he steps into this "asylum", to exclaim that he is plunging from the height of pleasure into the depth of torture and despair.
Thamby was in high feather at the thought of having cast in his lot with so distinguished a class. But with the beginning of July began a new era in his scholastic career. He no longer cherished the idea of being regarded as an outstanding lunatic. He wanted to obtain a new title altogether - a title that would place him on a level with the intellectual giants of the other two classes who had been pronounced to be extraordinary scholars. He, who had hitherto styled himself as "Extraordinary Thamby", was now almost moved to tears at the indifference of his superiors who would not deem him "extraordinary". Was it because he was not a Latin scholar?
The reading of an article on Lingua Latina from a boy's pen had taught him that this subject was something quite extraordinary, pursued by only quite extraordinary students, and he now reckoned that he could easily merit the title he sought by distinguishing himself as a Latin scholar. He now reckoned that he could, by so distinguishing himself, efface all those ignominous remarks gained by his class, that he could earn for it a far better name than that of "lunatics". He sought, therefore, not only to qualify for the title of "extraordinary", but also to show off his chivalry.
He now set about to master this subject. He drew up a scheme but when it came to naming it, he found himself again on the verge of tears. He could not tolerate a nameless scheme. Neither could he readily light upon a suitable name for his new project. At length a reflection on politics put him in mind of the "Five-Year Plan" of Soviet Russia. He forthwith christened his new scheme "The Half-Year Plan", assuring himself that it was the more practicable, and vowed thereupon that he would work strictly in accordance with it.
But how could Master Thamby, who is destitute of self-respect, who almost invariably courts procrastination, and postpones work of all kinds to be done at the eleventh hour, uphold such a promise? For a week or so he worked with might and main; for a month or so he worked by fits and starts; and then the paradigms of the more anomalous verbs so puzzled him and his interest in the subject lagged to such a painful pitch that he resolutely dropped this quixotic project and never resumed the study. He soon forgot much of what he had learnt and never retrieved the loss.
His weakest subject is mathematics. The very sight of the textbooks would turn him poorly in the stomach and that of the somewhat austere master would give him the creeps. It is a habit with him, as with a good many boys, to neglect the homework at times, to even neglect to copy it from other books. On such occasions the master would run him down with all the fury of an active volcano. He would haul out at the pitch of his voice, "Confound your Latin and your Greek!" and the whole class would be simply thunderstruck at knowing that Thamby had mastered his Greek as well! At times the master would come across such words as alternando and componendo in the text books, and at such times the anticipation that he would enquire into his study of Latin would subject the lad to painful anxiety, and, lest his eyes should betray him, he would stare at every object in the class-room but the awe-inspiring master.
As Latin quotations are prone to occur in the English textbooks, it stands to reason that he should be equally afraid of the English master. And so he is. When such quotations occurred, Thamby would form a thousand conjectures. He would think that the master would ask him many prying questions in the subject and so constantly keep him in hot water, and thinking thus, he would misdirect the master's attention from the piece at hand in some peculiar manner, and thus relieve himself of all fears.
But his fears are almost always quite out of season; this master wears a long face but once in a blue moon, and even at such a time he would rather indulge in some profitable affair than condescend to test a boy in Latin. Indeed, at times I cannot help giggling at his humorous remarks; and at such times even Master Thamby dismisses all his fears, and laughs from ear to ear as freely as the rest of the class.
Once he is out of the classroom, we would set up for a learned gentlemen. On no account will he fail to have by him no less than two ponderous Latin volumes, all the more to impress on the bystander that he is what he purports to be. A few of his friends would occasionally approach him for some assistance in their Latin. For a time he would turn a deaf ear to all their entreaties, and if they still persisted, he would say, "My dear friends, you may call me selfish or jelly-fish, but I will not for the life of me impart to you so much as an atom of my knowledge of Latin!" But the vast majority of the Latin scholars would steer clear of Master Thamby lest he should meet them, discover their weaknesses in the subject, and treat them with contempt.
Ever and anon he would make his dignified entry into the School library, and take his seat beside some matriculating student who is engaged in his Latin translations. Then our Argus-eyed friend would hunt for some misspelt or mistranslated word in the scholar's work, and if he found any, he would point it out to him, and would instantly quit the place, leaving the matriculator to sing his praises.
As a hypocrite he never had his fellow and never has, and probably no fellow-worker has the nerve in him to ask him: "Friend, why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"
Thus he moves on hale and hearty. He shows off his talents in every possible way. He considers himself not only as an extraordinary Latin scholar, but as the very cream of the Victoria Institution. He is an extraordinary braggart. He brags from morn till night, so that it is extremely difficult to find a character, either fictitious or real, or surpass him in this respect. His hyprocrisy and his altogether strange demeanour has already won for him a consideration in the School; but a few of his friends, who know his character to a nicety, maintain that he is a little eccentric, that he is slightly touched in the "upper storey", and his teachers still continue to say that "something is radically wrong with him". They are of opinion that he has taken after the Pharisees of old, and thus considering, they predict that if he does not repent, if he does not turn over a new leaf, the Great Judge would surely condemn him to the most infernal chamber of hell on that inevitable day, the Day of Judgment.
Last update on 28 October 2000.
Contributed by: Chung Chee Min
PageKeeper: Ooi Boon Kheng