An Essay on the Principle of Population

Thomas Robert Malthus
Malthus, Thomas Robert
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London: John Murray
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14 of 60

Book I, Chapter XI

Of the Checks to Population in Indostan and Tibet.


In the ordinances of Menu, the Indian legislator, which Sir Wm. Jones has translated, and called the Institutes of Hindu Law, marriage is very greatly encouraged, and a male heir is considered as an object of the first importance.


"By a son a man obtains victory over all people; by a son's son he enjoys immortality; and afterwards by the son of that grandson he reaches the solar abode."
"Since the son delivers his father from the hell, named Put, he was therefore called puttra, by Brahma himself."*58


Among the different nuptial rites, Menu has ascribed particular qualities to each.


"A son of a Bráhmì, or wife by the first ceremony, redeems from sin, if he perform virtuous acts, ten ancestors, ten descendants and himself, the twenty-first person."
"A son born of a wife by the Daiva nuptials redeems seven anal seven, in higher and lower degrees; of a wife by the Arsha, three and three; of a wife by the Prájápatya six and six."*59


A housekeeper is considered as of the most eminent order. "The divine sages, the manes, the gods, the spirits and guests pray for benefits to masters of families."*60 An elder brother not married before the younger, is mentioned among the persons who are particularly to be shunned.*61


Such ordinances would naturally cause marriage to be considered a religious duty; yet it seems to be rather a succession of male heirs, than a very numerous progeny, that is the object so much desired.


"The father having begotten a son, discharges his debt to his own progenitors."
"That son alone, by whose birth he discharges the debt, and through whom he attains immortality, was begotten from a sense of duty; all the rest are considered by the wise as begotten from love of pleasure."*62


A widow is on some occasions allowed to have one son by the brother, or some appointed kinsman of the deceased husband, but on no account a second. "The first object of the appointment being obtained according to law, both brother and sister must live together like a father and daughter by affinity."*63


In almost every part of the ordinances of Menu, sensuality of all kinds is strongly reprobated, and chastity inculcated as a religious duty.


"A man by the attachment of his organs to sensual pleasures incurs certain guilt; but having wholly subdued them, he hence attains heavenly bliss."
"Whatever man may obtain all those gratifications, or whatever man may resign them completely, the resignation of all pleasures is far better than the attainment of them."*64


It is reasonable to suppose that such passages might, in some degree, tend to counteract those encouragements to increase, which have been before mentioned; and might prompt some religious persons to desist from further indulgences, when they had obtained one son, or to remain more contented than they otherwise would have been in an unmarried state. Strict and absolute chastity seems indeed to supersede the obligation of having descendants.


"Many thousands of Brahmens having avoided sensuality from their early youth, and having left no issue in their families, have ascended nevertheless to Heaven."
"And like those abstemious men, a virtuous wife ascends to Heaven though she have no child, if after the decease of her lord she devote herself to pious austerity.*65


The permission to a brother or other kinsman to raise up an heir for the deceased husband, which has been noticed, extends only to women of the servile class.*66 Those of the higher classes are not even to pronounce the name of another man, but "to continue till death forgiving all injuries, performing harsh duties, avoiding every sensual pleasure, and cheerfully practising the incomparable rules of virtue."*67


Besides these strict precepts relating to the government of the passions, other circumstances would perhaps concur to prevent the full effect of the ordinances which encourage marriage.


The division of the people into classes, and the continuance of the same profession in the same family, would be the means of pointing out to each individual, in a clear and distinct manner, his future prospects respecting a livelihood; and from the gains of his father he would be easily enabled to judge whether he could support a family by the same employment. And though, when a man cannot gain a subsistence in the employments appropriate to his class, it is allowable for him, under certain restrictions, to seek it in another; yet some kind of disgrace seems to attach to this expedient; and it is not probable that many persons would marry with the certain prospect of being obliged thus to fall from their class, and to lower in so marked a manner their condition in life.


In addition to this, the choice of a wife seems to be a point of considerable difficulty. A man might remain unmarried for some time, before he could find exactly such a companion as the legislator prescribes. Ten families of a certain description, be they ever so great or ever so rich in kine, goats, sheep, gold and grain, are studiously to be avoided. Girls with too little or too much hair, who are too talkative, who have bad eyes, a disagreeable name or any kind of sickness, who have no brother, or whose father is not well known, are all; with many others, excluded; and the choice will appear to be in some degree confined, when it must necessarily rest upon a girl "whose form has no defect; who has an agreeable name; who walks gracefully, like a phenicopteros or a young elephant; whose hair and teeth are moderate respectively in quantity and size; whose body has exquisite softness."*68


It is observed, that a woman of the servile class is not mentioned, even in the recital of any ancient story, as the wife of a Brahmen or of a Cshatriya, though in the greatest difficulty to find a suitable match; which seems to imply, that such a difficulty might sometimes occur.*69


Another obstacle to marriage arising from Hindoo customs is, that an elder brother who does not marry seems in a manner to confine all his other brothers to the same state; for a younger brother, who marries before the elder, incurs disgrace, and is mentioned among the persons who ought to be shunned.*70


The character, which the legislator draws of the manners and dispositions of the women in India, is extremely unfavourable. Among many other passages expressed with equal severity, he observes, that, "through their passion for men, their mutable temper, their want of settled affection and their perverse nature, let them be guarded in this world ever so well, they soon become alienated from their husbands."*71


This character, if true, probably proceeded from their never being allowed the smallest degree of liberty,*72 and from the state of degradation to which they were reduced by the practice of polygamy; but however this may be, such passages tend strongly to shew that illicit intercourse between the sexes was frequent, notwithstanding the laws against adultery. These laws are noticed as not relating to the wives of public dancers or singers, or of such base men as lived by the intrigues of their wives;*73 a proof that these characters were not uncommon, and were to a certain degree permitted. Add to this, that the practice of polygamy*74 among the rich would sometimes render it difficult for the lower classes of people to obtain wives; and this difficulty would probably fall particularly hard on those, who were reduced to the condition of slaves.


From all these circumstances combined, it seems probable that among the checks to population in India the preventive check would have its share; but from the prevailing habits and opinions of the people, there is reason to believe that the tendency to early marriages was still always predominant; and in general prompted every person to enter into this state, who could look forward to the slightest chance of being able to maintain a family. The natural consequence of this was, that the lower classes of people were reduced to extreme poverty, and were compelled to adopt the most frugal and scanty mode of subsistence. This frugality was still further increased, and extended in some degree to the higher classes of society, by its being considered as an eminent virtue.*75 The population would thus be pressed hard against the limits of the means of subsistence, and the food of the country would be meted out to the major part of the people in the smallest shares that could support life. In such a state of things every failure in the crops from unfavourable seasons would be felt most severely; and India, as might be expected, has in all ages been subject to the most dreadful famines.


A part of the ordinances of Menu is expressly dedicated to the consideration of times of distress, and instructions are given to the different classes respecting their conduct during these periods. Brahmens pining with hunger and want are frequently mentioned*76 and certain ancient and virtuous characters are described, who had done impure and unlawful acts, but who were considered by the legislator as justified on account of the extremities to which they were reduced.


"Ajígarta, dying with hunger, was going to destroy his own son by selling him for some cattle; yet he was guilty of no crime, for he only sought a remedy against famishing."
"Vámadéva, who well knew right and wrong, was by no means rendered impure, though desirous, when oppressed by hunger, of eating the flesh of dogs."
"Viswámitra too, than whom none knew better the distinctions between virtue and vice, resolved, when he was perishing with hunger, to eat the haunch of a dog, which he had received from a Chaudála."*77


If these great and virtuous men of the highest class, whom all persons were under the obligation of assisting, could be reduced to such extremities, we may easily conjecture what must have been the sufferings of the lowest class.


Such passages clearly prove the existence of seasons of the most severe distress, at the early period when these ordinances were composed; and we have reason to think, that they have occurred at irregular intervals ever since. One of the Jesuits says that it is impossible for him to describe the misery to which he was witness during the two-years' famine in 1737 and 1738;*78 but the description which he gives of it, and of the mortality which it occasioned, is sufficiently dreadful without further detail. Another Jesuit, speaking more generally, says, "Every year we baptize a thousand children, whom their parents can no longer feed, or who, being likely to die, are sold to us by their mothers, in order to get rid of them."*79


The positive checks to population would of course fall principally upon the Sudrá class, and those still more miserable beings, who are the outcasts of all the classes and are not even suffered to live within the towns.*80


On this part of the population the epidemics, which are the consequences of indigence and bad nourishment, and the mortality among young children, would necessarily make great ravages and thousands of these unhappy wretches would probably be swept off in a period of scarcity, before any considerable degree of want had reached the middle classes of the society. The Abbé Raynal says (on what authority I know not), that, when the crops of rice fail, the huts of these poor outcasts are set on fire, and the flying inhabitants shot by the proprietors of the grounds, that they may not consume any part of the produce.*81


The difficulty of rearing a family even among the middle and higher classes of society, or the fear of sinking from their cast, has driven the people in some parts of India to adopt the most cruel expedients to prevent a numerous offspring. In a tribe on the frontiers of Junapore, a district of the province of Benares, the practice of destroying female infants has been fully substantiated. The mothers were compelled to starve them. The reason that the people gave for this cruel practice was the great expense of procuring suitable matches for their daughters. One village only furnished an exception to this rule, and in that village several old maids were living.


It will naturally occur, that the race could not be continued upon this principle: but it appeared that the particular exceptions to the general rule and the intermarriages with other tribes were sufficient for this purpose. The East-India Company obliged these people to enter into an engagement not to continue this inhuman practice.*82


On the coast of Malabar the Nayrs do not enter into regular marriages, and the right of inheritance and succession rests in the mother of the brother, or otherwise goes to the sister's son, the father of the child being always considered as uncertain.


Among the Brahmens, when there are more brothers than one, only the elder or eldest of them marries. The brothers, who thus maintain celibacy, cohabit with Nayr women without marriage in the way of the Nayrs. If the eldest brother has not a son, then the next brother marries.


Among the Nayrs, it is the custom for one Nayr woman to have attached to her two males, or four, or perhaps more.


The lower casts, such as carpenters, ironsmiths, and others, have fallen into the imitation of their superiors, with this difference, that the joint concern in one woman is confined to brothers and male relations by blood, to the end that no alienation may take place in the course of the succession.*83


Montesquieu takes notice of this custom of the Nayrs on the coast of Malabar, and accounts for it on the supposition that it was adopted in order to weaken the family ties of this cast, that as soldiers they might be more at liberty to follow the calls of their profession: but I should think that it originated more probably in a fear of the poverty arising from a large family, particularly as the custom seems to have been adopted by the other classes.*84


In Tibet, according to Turner's account of that country, a custom of this kind prevails generally. Without pretending absolutely to determine the question of its origin, Mr. Turner leans to the supposition that it arose from the fear of a population too great for an unfertile country. From travelling much in the east he had probably been led to observe the effects necessarily resulting from an overflowing population, and is in consequence one among the very few writers, who see these effects in their true light. He expresses himself very strongly on this subject, and, in reference to the above custom, says, "It certainly appears, that a superabundant population in an unfertile country must be the greatest of all calamities, and produce eternal warfare or eternal want. Either the most active and the most able part of the community must be compelled to emigrate, and to become soldiers of fortune or merchants of chance; or else, if they remain at home, be liable to fall a prey to famine in consequence of some accidental failure in their scanty crops. By thus linking whole families together in the matrimonial yoke, the too rapid increase of population was perhaps checked, and an alarm prevented, capable of pervading the most fertile region upon the earth, and of giving birth to the most inhuman and unnatural practice, in the richest, the most productive and the most populous country in the world. I allude to the Empire of China, where a mother, not foreseeing the means of raising or providing for a numerous family, exposes her newborn infant to perish in the fields; a crime, however odious, by no means I am assured unfrequent."*85


In almost every country of the globe individuals are compelled by considerations of private interest to habits, which tend to repress the natural increase of population; but Tibet is perhaps the only country, where these habits are universally encouraged by the government, and where to repress rather than to encourage population seems to be a public object.


In the first career of life the Bootea is recommended to distinction by a continuance in a state of celibacy; as any matrimonial contract proves almost a certain hinderance to his rise in rank, or his advancement to offices of political importance. Population is thus opposed by the two powerful bars of ambition and religion; and the higher orders of men, entirely engrossed by political or ecclesiastical duties, leave to the husbandman and labourer, to those who till the fields and live by their industry, the exclusive charge of propagating the species.*86


Hence religious retirement is frequent,*87 and the number of monasteries and nunneries is considerable. The strictest laws exist to prevent a woman from accidentally passing a night within the limits of the one, or a man within those of the other; and a regulation is framed completely to obviate abuse; and establish respect towards the sacred orders of both sexes.


The nation is divided into two distinct and separate classes, those who carry on the business of the world, and those who hold intercourse with heaven. No interference of the laity ever interrupts the regulated duties of the clergy. The latter, by mutual compact, take charge of all spiritual concerns; and the former by their labours enrich and populate the state.*88


But even among the laity the business of population goes on very coldly. All the brothers of a family, without any restriction of age or of numbers, associate their fortunes with one female, who is chosen by the eldest, and considered as the mistress of the house; and whatever may be the profits of their several pursuits, the result flows into the common store.*89


The number of husbands is not apparently defined, or restricted within any limits. It sometimes happens that in a small family there is but one male; and the number, Mr. Turner says, may seldom exceed that which a native of rank at Teshoo Loomboo pointed out to him in a family resident in the neighbourhood, in which five brothers were then living together very happily with one female under the same connubial compact. Nor is this sort of league confined to the lower ranks of people alone; it is found also frequently in the most opulent families.*90


It is evident that this custom, combined with the celibacy of such a numerous body of ecclesiastics, must operate in the most powerful manner as a preventive check to population. Yet, notwithstanding this excessive check, it would appear, from Mr. Turner's account of the natural sterility of the soil, that the population is kept up to the level of the means of subsistence; and this seems to be confirmed by the number of beggars in Teshoo Loomboo. On these beggars, and the charity which feeds them, Mr. Turner's remark, though common, is yet so just and important that it cannot be too often repeated.


"Thus I unexpectedly discovered," he says, "where I had constantly seen the round of life moving in a tranquil regular routine, a mass of indigence and idleness, of which I had no idea. But yet it by no means surprised me, when I considered that, wherever indiscriminate charity exists, it will never want objects on which to exercise its bounty, but will always attract expectants more numerous than it has the means to gratify. No human being can suffer want at Teshoo Loomboo. It is on this humane disposition, that a multitude even of Musselmen, of a frame probably the largest and most robust in the world, place their reliance for the mere maintenance of a feeble life; and besides these, I am informed, that no less than three hundred Hindoos, Goseins, and Sunniasses, are daily fed at this place by the Lama's bounty."*91

Notes for this chapter

Sir William Jones's Works, vol. iii. c. ix. p. 354. Speaking of the Indian laws, the Abbé Raynal says, "La population est un devoir primitif, un ordre de la nature si sacré, que la loi permet de tromper, de mentir, de se parjurer pour favoriser un mariage." Hist. des Indes, tom. i. l. i. p. 81. 8vo. 10 vols. Paris, 1795.
Sir Wm. Jones's Works, vol. iii. c. iii. p. 124.
Id. p. 130.
Id. p. 141.
Id. vol. iii. c. ix. p. 340.
Sir William Jones's Works, vol. iii. c. ix. p. 343.
Id. vol. iii. c. ii. p. 96.
Sir William Jones's Works, vol. iii. c. v. p. 221.
Id. c. ix. p. 343.
Id. c. v. p. 221.
Sir William Jones's Works, vol. iii. c. iii. p. 120.
Id. p. 121.
Sir William Jones's Works, vol. iii. c. iii. p. 141.
Id. c. ix. p. 337.
Id. c. v. p. 219.
Id. c. viii. p. 325.
Sir William Jones's Works, vol, iii. c: ix. p. 346, 347.
Id. c. iii. p. 133.
Sir William Jones's Works, vol. iii. c. iv. p. 165. c. x. p. 397.
Id. c. x. p. 397, 398.
Lettres Edif. tom. xiv. p. 178.
Id. p. 284.
Sir William Jones's Works, vol. iii. c. x. p. 390.
Hist. des Indes, tom. i. liv. i. p. 97. 8vo. 10 vols. Paris, 1795.
Asiatic Researches, vol. iv. p. 354.
Asiatic Researches, vol. v. p. 14.
Esprit des Loix, liv. xvi. c. 5.
Turner's Embassy to Tibet, part ii. c. x. p. 351.
Id. c. i. p. 172.
Turner's Embassy, part ii. c. viii. p. 312.
Id. c. x. p. 348, 350.
Turner's Embassy, part ii. c. x. p. 349.
Turner's Embassy, part ii. c. ix. p. 330. .

End of Notes

15 of 60

Book I, Chapter XII

Of the Checks to Population in China and Japan.


The account, which has lately been given of the population of China, is so extraordinary as to startle the faith of many readers, and tempt them to suppose, either that some accidental error must have crept into the calculations from an ignorance of the language; or that the mandarin, who gave Sir George Staunton the information, must have been prompted by a national pride, (which is common every where, but particularly remarkable in China,) to exaggerate the power and resources of his country. It must be allowed that neither of these circumstances is very improbable; at the same time it will be found that the statement of Sir George Staunton does not very essentially differ from other accounts of good authority: and, so far from involving any contradiction, is rendered probable by a reference to those descriptions of the fertility of China, in which all the writers who have visited the country agree.


According to Duhalde, in the poll made at the beginning of the reign of Kang-hi, there were found 11,052,872 families, and 59,788,364 men able to bear arms; and yet neither the princes, nor the officers of the court, nor the mandarins, nor the soldiers who had served and been discharged; nor the literati, the licentiates, the doctors, the bonzas, nor young persons under twenty years of age, nor the great multitudes living either on the sea or on rivers in barks, are comprehended in this number.*92


The proportion, which the number of men of a military age bears to the whole population of any country, is generally estimated as l to 4. If we multiply 59,788,364 by 4, the result will be 239,153,456; but in the general calculations on this subject, a youth is considered as capable of bearing arms before he is twenty. We ought therefore to have multiplied by a higher number. The exceptions to the poll seem to include almost all the superior classes of society, and a very great number among the lower. When all these circumstances are taken into consideration, the whole population, according to Duhalde, will not appear to fall very short of the 333,000,000 mentioned by Sir George Staunton.*93


The small number of families in proportion to the number of persons able to bear arms, which is a striking part of this statement of Duhalde, is accounted for by a custom noticed by Sir George Staunton as general in China. In the enclosure belonging to one dwelling, he observes that a whole family of three generations, with all their respective wives and children, will frequently be found. One small room is made to serve for the individuals of each family, sleeping in different beds, divided only by mats hanging from the ceiling. One common room is used for eating.*94 In China there is besides a prodigious number of slaves,*95 who will of course be reckoned as part of the families to which they belong. These two circumstances may perhaps be sufficient to account for what at first appears to be a contradiction in the statement.


To account for this population, it will not be necessary to recur to the supposition of Montesquieu, that the climate of China is in any peculiar manner favourable to the production of children, and that the women are more prolific than in any other part of the world.*96 The causes which have principally contributed to produce this effect appear to be the following:


First, the excellence of the natural soil, and its advantageous position in the warmest parts of the temperate zone, a situation the most favourable to the productions of the earth. Duhalde has a long chapter on the plenty which reigns in China, in which he observes, that almost all that other kingdoms afford may be found in China; and that China produces an infinite number of things, which are to be found nowhere else. This plenty, he says, may be attributed as well to the depth of the soil, as to the painful industry of its inhabitants, and the great number of lakes, rivers, brooks and canals, wherewith the country is watered.*97


Secondly, the very great encouragement that from the beginning of the monarchy has been given to agriculture, which has directed the labours of the people to the production of the greatest possible quantity of human subsistence. Duhalde says, that what makes these people undergo such incredible fatigues in cultivating the earth is not barely their private interest, but rather the veneration paid to agriculture, and the esteem which the emperors themselves have always had for it, from the commencement of the monarchy. One emperor of the highest reputation was taken from the plough to sit on the throne. Another found out the art of draining water from several low countries, which were till then covered with it, of conveying it in canals to the sea, and of using these canals to render the soil fruitful.*98 He besides wrote several books on the manner of cultivating land, by dunging, tilling and, watering it. Many other emperors expressed their zeal for this art and made laws to promote it; but none raised its esteem to a higher pitch than Ven-ti, who reigned 179 years before Christ. This prince, perceiving that his country was ruined by wars, resolved to engage his subjects to cultivate their lands, by the example of ploughing with his own hands the land belonging to his palace, which obliged all the ministers and great men of his court to do the same.*99


A great festival, of which this is thought to be the origin, is solemnized every year in all the cities of China on the day that the sun enters the fifteenth degree of Aquarius, which the Chinese consider as the beginning of their spring. The emperor goes himself in a solemn manner to plough a few ridges of land, in order to animate the husbandman by his own example; and the mandarins of every city perform the same ceremony.*100 Princes of the blood and other illustrious persons hold the plough after the emperor, and the ceremony is preceded by the spring sacrifice, which the emperor as chief pontiff offers to Shangti, to procure plenty in favour of his people.


The reigning emperor in the time of Duhalde celebrated this festival with extraordinary solemnity, and in other respects shewed an uncommon regard for husbandmen. To encourage them in their labours, he ordered the governors of all the cities to send him notice every year of the person in this profession, in their respective districts, who was most remarkable for his application to agriculture, for unblemished reputation, for preserving union in his own family, and peace with his neighbours, and for his frugality, and aversion to all extravagance.*101 The mandarins in their different provinces encourage with honours the vigilant cultivator, and stigmatize with disgrace the man whose lands are neglected.*102


In a country, in which the whole of the government is of the patriarchal kind, and the emperor is venerated as the father of his people and the fountain of instruction, it is natural to suppose, that these high honours paid to agriculture would have a powerful effect. In the gradations of rank, they have raised the husbandman above the merchant or mechanic;*103 and the great object of ambition among the lower classes is to become possessed of a small portion of land. The number of manufacturers bears but a very inconsiderable proportion to that of husbandmen in China;*104 and the whole surface of the empire is, with trifling exceptions, dedicated to the production of food for man alone. There is no meadow, and very little pasture; neither are the fields cultivated in oats, beans or turnips, for the support of cattle of any kind. Little land is taken up for roads, which are few and narrow, the chief communication, being by water. There are no commons or lands suffered to lie waste by the neglect or the caprice or for the sport of great proprietors. No arable land lies fallow. The soil, under a hot and fertilizing sun, yields annually in most instances double crops; in consequence of adapting the culture to the soil, and of supplying its defects by mixture with other earths, by manure, by irrigation and by careful and judicious industry of every kind. The labour of man is little diverted from that industry, to minister to the luxuries of the opulent and powerful, or in employments of no real use. Even the soldiers of the Chinese army, except during the short intervals of the guards which they are called upon to mount, or the exercises or other occasional services which they perform, are mostly employed in agriculture. The quantity of subsistence is increased also by converting more species of animals and vegetables to that purpose, than is usual in other countries.*105


This account, which is given by Sir George Staunton, is confirmed by Duhalde and the other Jesuits; who agree in describing the persevering industry of the Chinese, in manuring, cultivating and watering their lands, and their success in producing a prodigious quantity of human subsistence.*106 The effect of such a system of agriculture on population must be obvious.


Lastly, the extraordinary encouragements that have been given to marriage, which have caused the immense produce of the country to be divided into very small shares, and have consequently rendered China more populous, in proportion to its means of subsistence, than perhaps any other country in the world.


The Chinese acknowledge two ends in marriage;*107 the first is, that of perpetuating the sacrifices in the temple of their fathers; and the second, the multiplication of the species. Duhalde says, that the veneration and submission of children to parents, which is the grand principle of their political government, continues even after death, and that the same duties are paid to them as if they were living. In consequence of these maxims, a father feels some sort of dishonour, and is not easy in his mind, if he do not marry off all his children; and an elder brother, though he inherit nothing from his father, must bring up the younger children and marry them, lest the family should become extinct, and the ancestors be deprived of the honours and duties they are entitled to from their descendants.*108


Sir George Staunton observes that whatever is strongly recommended, and generally practised, is at length considered as a kind of religious duty; and that the marriage union as such takes place in China, wherever there is the least prospect of subsistence for a future family. This prospect however is not always realized, and the children are then abandoned by the wretched authors of their being;*109 but even this permission given to parents thus to expose their offspring tends undoubtedly to facilitate marriage, and encourage population. Contemplating this extreme resource beforehand, less fear is entertained of entering into the married state; and the parental feelings will always step forwards, to prevent a recurrence to it, except under the most dire necessity. Marriage with the poor is besides a measure of prudence, because the children, particularly the sons, are bound to maintain their parents.*110


The effect of these encouragements to marriage among the rich, is to subdivide property, which has in itself a strong tendency to promote population. In China there is less inequality in the fortunes than in the conditions of men. Property in land has been divided into very moderate parcels, by the successive distribution of the possessions of every father equally among his sons. It rarely happens that there is but one son to enjoy the whole property of his deceased parents; and from the general prevalence of early marriages, this property is not often increased by collateral succession.*111 These causes constantly tend to level wealth; and few succeed to such an accumulation of it, as to render them independent of any efforts of their own for its increase. It is a common remark among the Chinese, that fortunes seldom continue considerable in the same family beyond the third generation.*112


The effect of encouragements to marriage on the poor is to keep the reward of labour as low as possible, and consequently to press them down to the most abject state of poverty. Sir George Staunton observes, that the price of labour is generally found to bear as small a proportion every where to the rate demanded for provisions, as the common people can suffer; and that, notwithstanding the advantage of living together in large families, like soldiers in a mess, and the exercise of the greatest economy in the management of these messes, they are reduced to the use of vegetable food, with a very rare and scanty relish of any animal substance.*113


Duhalde, after describing the painful industry of the Chinese, and the shifts and contrivances unknown in other countries, to which they have recourse in order to gain a subsistence, says, "Yet it must be owned, that, notwithstanding the great sobriety and industry of the inhabitants of China, the prodigious number of them occasions a great deal of misery. There are some so poor that, being unable to supply their children with common necessaries, they expose them in the streets." **** "In the great cities, such as Pekin and Canton, this shocking sight is very common."*114


The Jesuit Premare, writing to a friend of the same society, says, "I will tell you a fact, which may appear to be a paradox,*115 but is nevertheless strictly true. It is, that the richest and most flourishing empire of the world is notwithstanding, in one sense, the poorest and the most miserable of all. The country, however extensive and fertile it may be, is not sufficient to support its inhabitants. Four times as much territory would be necessary to place them at their ease. In Canton alone, there is, without exaggeration, more than a million of souls, and in a town three or four leagues distant a still greater number. Who then can count the inhabitants of this province? But what is this to the whole empire, which contains fifteen great provinces, all equally peopled? To how many millions would such a calculation amount? A third part of this infinite population would hardly find sufficient rice to support itself properly.


"It is well known, that extreme misery impels people to the most dreadful excesses. A spectator in China, who examines things closely, will not be surprised that mothers destroy or expose many of their children; that parents sell their daughters for a trifle; that the people should be interested; and that there should be such a number of robbers. The surprise is, that nothing still more dreadful should happen; and that in the times of famine which are here but too frequent, millions of people should perish with hunger, without having recourse to those dreadful extremities, of which we read examples in the histories of Europe.


"It cannot be said in China, as in Europe, that the poor are idle, and might gain a subsistence, if they would work. The labours and efforts of these poor people are beyond conception. A Chinese will pass whole days in digging the earth, sometimes up to his knees in water, and in the evening is happy to eat a little spoonful of rice, and to drink the insipid water in which it was boiled. This is all that they have in general."*116


A great part of this account is repeated in Duhalde; and, even allowing for some exaggeration, it shews in a strong point of view to what degree population has been forced in China, and the wretchedness which has been the consequence of it. The population which has arisen naturally from the fertility of the soil, and the encouragements to agriculture, may be considered as genuine and desirable; but all that has been added by the encouragements to marriage has not only been an addition of so much pure misery in itself, but has completely interrupted the happiness which the rest might have enjoyed.


The territory of China is estimated at about eight times the territory of France.*117 Taking the population of France only at 26 millions, eight times that number will give 208,000,000; and when the three powerful causes of population, which have been stated, are considered, it will not appear incredible, that the population of China should be to the population of France, according to their respective superficies, as 333 to 208, or a little more than 3 to 2.


The natural tendency to increase is every where so great that it will generally be easy to account for the height, at which the population is found in any country. The more difficult as well as the more interesting part of the inquiry is, to trace the immediate causes, which stop its further progress. The procreative power would, with as much facility, double in twenty-five years the population of China, as that of any of the states of America; but we know that it cannot do this, from the palpable inability of the soil to support such an additional number. What then becomes of this mighty power in China? And what are the kinds of restraint, and the forms of premature death, which keep the population down to the level of the means of subsistence?


Notwithstanding the extraordinary encouragements to marriage in China, we should perhaps be led into an error, if we were to suppose that the preventive check to population does not operate. Duhalde says, that the number of bonzas is considerably above a million, of which there are two thousand unmarried at Pekin, besides three hundred and fifty thousand more in their temples established in different places by the emperor's patents, and that the literary bachelors alone are about ninety thousand.*118


The poor, though they would probably always marry when the slightest prospect opened to them of being able to support a family, and, from the permission of infanticide, would run great risks in this respect; yet they would undoubtedly be deterred from entering into this state, under the certainty of being obliged to expose all their children, or to sell themselves and families as slaves; and from the extreme poverty of the lower classes of people, such a certainty would often present itself. But it is among the slaves themselves, of which, according to Duhalde, the misery in China produces a prodigious multitude, that the preventive check to population principally operates. A man sometimes sells his son, and even himself and wife, at a very moderate price. The common mode is, to mortgage themselves with a condition of redemption, and a great number of men and maid servants are thus bound in a family.*119 Hume, in speaking of the practice of slavery among the ancients, remarks very justly, that it will generally be cheaper to buy a full-grown slave, than to rear up one from a child. This observation appears to be particularly applicable to the Chinese. All writers agree in mentioning the frequency of the dearths in China; and, during these periods, it is probable that slaves would be sold in great numbers for little more than a bare maintenance. It could very rarely therefore answer to the master of a family, to encourage his slaves to breed; and we may suppose, in consequence, that a great part of the servants in China, as in Europe, remain unmarried.


The check to population, arising from a vicious intercourse with the sex, does not appear to be very considerable in China. The women are said to be modest and reserved, and adultery is rare. Concubinage is however generally practised, and in the large towns public women are registered; but their number is not great, being proportioned, according to Sir George Staunton, to the small number of unmarried persons, and of husbands absent from their families.*120


The positive checks to population from disease, though considerable, do not appear to be so great as might be expected. The climate is in general extremely healthy. One of the missionaries goes so far as to say, that plagues or epidemic disorders are not seen once in a century;*121 but this is undoubtedly an error, as they are mentioned by others as if they were by no means so unfrequent. In some instructions to mandarins, relating to the burying of the poor, who have in general no regular places of sepulture, it is observed that when epidemic diseases prevail, the roads are found covered with bodies sufficient to infect the air to a great distance;*122 and the expression of years of contagion*123 occurs soon after, in a manner which seems to imply that they are not uncommon. On the first and fifteenth day of every month the mandarins assemble, and give their people a long discourse, wherein every governor acts the part of a father who instructs his family.*124 In one of these discourses, which Duhalde produces, the following passage occurs: "Beware of those years which happen from time to time, when epidemic distempers, joined to a scarcity of corn, make all places desolate. Your duty is then to have compassion on your fellow-citizens, and assist them with whatever you can spare."*125


It is probable that the epidemics, as is usually the case, fall severely on the children. One of the Jesuits, speaking of the number of infants whom the poverty of their parents condemns to death the moment that they are born, writes thus: "There is seldom a year, in which the churches at Pekin do not reckon five or six thousand of these children purified by the waters of baptism. This harvest is more or less abundant according to the number of catechists which we can maintain. If we had a sufficient number, their cares need not be confined alone to the dying infants that are exposed. There would be other occasions for them to exercise their zeal, particularly at certain times of the year, when the small-pox or epidemic disorders carry off an incredible number of children."*126 It is indeed almost impossible to suppose that the extreme indigence of the lower classes of people should not produce diseases, likely to be fatal to a considerable part of those children whom their parents might attempt to rear in spite of every difficulty.


Respecting the number of infants which are actually exposed, it is difficult to form the slightest guess; but, if we believe the Chinese writers themselves, the practice must be very common. Attempts have been made at different times by the government to put a stop to it, but always without success. In a book of instructions before alluded to, written by a mandarin celebrated for his humanity and wisdom, a proposal is made for the establishment of a foundling hospital in his district, and an account is given of some ancient establishments of the same kind,*127 which appear to have fallen into disuse. In this book the frequency of the exposure of children and the dreadful poverty which prompts it, are particularly described. "We see," he says, "people so poor, that they cannot furnish the nourishment necessary for their own children. It is on this account that they expose so great a number. In the metropolis; in the capitals of the provinces and in the places of the greatest commerce, their number is the most considerable; but many are found in parts that are less frequented, and even in the country. As the houses in towns are more crowded together, the practice is more obvious; but every where these poor unfortunate infants have need of assistance."*128


In the same work, part of an edict to prevent the drowning of children runs thus: "When the tender offspring just produced is thrown without pity into the waves, can it be said that the mother has given or that the child has received life, when it is lost as soon as it is begun to be enjoyed? The poverty of the parents is the cause of this crime. They have hardly enough to support themselves, much less are they able to pay a nurse and provide for the expenses necessary for the support of their children. This drives them to despair; and not being able to bring themselves to suffer two people to die that one may live, the mother, to preserve the life of her husband, consents to sacrifice her child. It costs much, however, to the parental feelings; but the resolution is ultimately taken, and they think that they are justified in disposing of the life of their child to prolong their own. If they exposed their children in a secret place, the babe might work upon their compassion with its cries. What do they do then? They throw it into the current of the river, that they may lose sight of it immediately, and take from it at once all chance of life."*129


Such writings appear to be most authentic documents respecting the general prevalence of infanticide.


Sir George Staunton has stated, from the best information which he could collect, that the number of children annually exposed at Pekin is about two thousand;*130 but it is highly probable that the number varies extremely from year to year, and depends very much upon seasons of plenty or seasons of scarcity. After any great epidemic or destructive famine, the number is probably very small; it is natural that it should increase gradually on the return to a crowded population; and it is without doubt the greatest, when an unfavourable season takes place, at a period in which the average produce is already insufficient to support the overflowing multitude.


These unfavourable seasons do not appear to be unfrequent, and the famines which follow them are perhaps the most powerful of all the positive checks to the Chinese population; though at some periods the checks from wars and internal commotions have not been inconsiderable.*131 In the annals of the Chinese monarchs, famines are often mentioned;*132 and it is not probable that they would find a place among the most important events and revolutions of the empire, if they were not desolating and destructive to a great degree.


One of the Jesuits remarks that the occasions when the mandarins pretend to shew the greatest compassion for the people are, when they are apprehensive of a failure in the crops, either from drought, from excessive rains, or from some other accident, such as a multitude of locusts, which sometimes overwhelms certain provinces.*133 The causes here enumerated are probably those, which principally contribute to the failure of the harvests in China; and the manner in which they are mentioned seems to shew that they are not uncommon.


Meares speaks of violent hurricanes, by which whole harvests are dissipated, and a famine follows. From a similar cause, he says, accompanied by excessive drought, a most dreadful dearth prevailed in 1787, throughout all the southern provinces of China, by which an incredible number of people perished. It was no uncommon thing at Canton to see the famished wretch breathing his last, while mothers thought it a duty to destroy their infant children, and the young to give the stroke of fate to the aged, to save them from the agonies of such a dilatory death.*134


The Jesuit Parennin, writing to a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, says, "Another thing that you can scarcely believe is, that dearths should be so frequent in China;"*135 and in the conclusion of his letter he remarks that, if famine did not, from time to time, thin the immense number of inhabitants which China contains, it would be impossible for her to live in peace.*136 The causes of these frequent famines he endeavours to investigate; and begins by observing, very justly, that in a time of dearth China can obtain no assistance from her neighbours, and must necessarily draw the whole of her resources from her own provinces.*137 He then describes the delays and artifices, which often defeat the emperor's intentions to assist, from the public granaries, those parts of the country which are the most distressed. When a harvest fails in any province, either from excessive drought or a sudden inundation, the great mandarins have recourse to the public granaries; but often find them empty, owing to the dishonesty of the inferior mandarins, who have the charge of them. Examinations and researches are then made, and an unwillingness prevails to inform the court of such disagreeable intelligence. Memorials are however at length presented. These memorials pass through many hands, and do not reach the emperor till after many days. The great officers of state are then ordered to assemble, and to deliberate on the means of relieving the misery of the people. Declarations full of expressions of compassion for the people are in the mean time published throughout the empire. The resolution of the tribunal is at length made known; but numberless other ceremonies delay its execution; while those who are suffering have time to die with hunger, before the remedy arrives. Those who do not wait for this last extremity crawl as well as they can into other districts, where they hope to get support, but leave the greatest part of their number dead on the road.*138


If, when a dearth occurs, the court do not make some attempt to relieve the people, small parties of plunderers soon collect, and their numbers increase by degrees, so as to interrupt the tranquillity of the province. On this account numerous orders are always given, and movements are continually taking place, to amuse the people till the famine is over; and as the motives to relieve the people are generally rather reasons of state than genuine compassion, it is not probable that they should be relieved at the time, and in the manner, that their wants require.*139


The last cause of famine, which is mentioned in this investigation, and on which the writer lays considerable stress, is the very great consumption of grain in making spirits;*140 but in stating this as a cause of famine, he has evidently fallen into a very gross error; yet in the Abbé Grosier's general description of China this error has been copied, and the cause above mentioned has been considered as one of the grand sources of the evil.*141 But, in reality, the whole tendency of this cause is in a contrary direction. The consumption of corn in any other way but that of necessary food, checks the population before it arrives at the utmost limits of subsistence; and as the grain may be withdrawn from this particular use in the time of a scarcity, a public granary is thus opened, richer probably than could have been formed by any other means. When such a consumption has been once established, and has become permanent, its effect is exactly as if a piece of land, with all the people upon it, were removed from the country. The rest of the people would certainly be precisely in the same state as they were before, neither better nor worse, in years of average plenty; but in the time of dearth the produce of this land would be returned to them, without the mouths to help them to eat it. China, without her distilleries, would certainly be more populous; but on a failure of the seasons, would have still less resource than she has at present; and, as far as the magnitude of the cause would operate, would in consequence be more subject to famines, and those famines would be more severe.


The state of Japan resembles in so many respects that of China, that a particular consideration of it would lead into too many repetitions. Montesquieu attributes its populousness to the birth of a greater number of females;*142 but the principal cause of this populousness is, without doubt, as in China, the persevering industry of the natives, directed, as it has always been, principally to agriculture.


In reading the preface to Thunberg's account of Japan, it would seem extremely difficult to trace the checks to the population of a country the inhabitants of which are said to live in such happiness and plenty; but the continuation of his own work contradicts the impression of his preface; and in the valuable history of Japan by Kæmpfer these checks are sufficiently obvious. In the extracts from two historical chronicles published in Japan, which he produces,*143 a very curious account is given of the different mortalities, plagues, famines, bloody wars and other causes of destruction, which have occurred since the commencement of these records. The Japanese are distinguished from the Chinese, in being much more warlike, seditious, dissolute and ambitious: and it would appear, from Kæmpfer's account, that the check to population from infanticide, in China, is balanced by the greater dissoluteness of manners with regard to the sex, and the greater frequency of wars and intestine commotions which prevail in Japan. With regard to the positive checks to population from disease and famine, the two countries seem to be nearly on a level.

Notes for this chapter

Duhalde's Hist. of China, 2 vols. folio, 1738. vol. i. p. 244.
Embassy to China, vol. ii. Appen. p. 615. 4to.
Embassy to China, vol. ii. Appen. p. 155. 4to.
Duhalde's China, vol. i. p. 278.
Esprit des Loix, liv. viii. c. xxi.
Duhalde's China, vol. i. p. 314.
Id. p. 274.
Duhalde's China, vol. i. p. 275.
Id. ib.
Id. p. 276.
Lettres Edif. tom. xix. p. 132.
Duhalde's s China, vol. i. p. 272.
Embassy to China, Staunton, vol. ii. p. 544.
Embassy to China, Staunton, vol. ii. p. 545.
Duhalde, chapter on Agriculture, vol. i. p. 272; chapter on Plenty, p. 314.
Lettres Edif. et Curieuses, tom. xxiii. p. 448.
Duhalde's China, vol. i. p. 303.
Embassy to China, vol. ii. p. 157.
Embassy to China, vol. ii. p. 157.
Id. p. 151.
Id. p. 152:
Embassy to China, Staunton, vol. ii. p. 156.
Duhalde's China, vol. i. p. 277.
Lettres Edif. et Curieuses, tom. xvi. p. 394.
Lettres Edif. et Curieuses, tom. xvi. p. 394. et seq.
Embassy to China, Staunton, vol. ii. p. 546.
Duhalde's China, vol. i. p. 244.
Duhalde's China, vol. i. p. 278. La misère et le grand nombre d'habitants de l'empire y causent cette multitude prodigieuse d'esclaves: presque tous les valets, et généralement toutes les filles de service d'une maison sont esclaves. Lettres Edif. tom. xix, p. 145.
Embassy to China, vol. ii. p. 157.
Lettres Edif. tom. xxii. p. 187.
Lettres Edif. tom. xix. p. 126.
Id. p. 127.
Duhalde's China, vol. i. p. 259.
Id. 256.
Lettres Edif. tom. xix. p. 100.
Ibid. p. 110.
Lettres Edif. tom. xix. p. 111.
Lettres Edif. tom. xix. p. 124.
Embassy to China, vol. ii. p. 159.
Annals of the Chinese Monarchs. Duhalde's China, vol. i. p. 136.
Lettres Edif. tom. xix. p. 154.
Meares's Voyage, ch. vii. p. 92.
Lettres Edif. et Curieuses, tom. xxii. p. 174.
Id. p. 186.
Id. p. 175.
Lettres Edif. tom. xxii. p. 180.
Id. p. 187.
Id. p. 184.
Vol. i. b. iv. c. iii. p. 396. 8vo. Eng. tran.
Liv. xxiii. c. xii. It is surprising that Montesquieu, who appears sometimes to understand the subject of population, should at other times make such observations as this.
Book ii. .

End of Notes

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