Back - List of Pavilions

China - Expo Paris 1878

China at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1878


Ambassador Kwo-sung-tao, specially delegated by the Celestial Empire to supervise the Chinese exhibition, is a man of small stature, with an intelligent physiognomy, and a grave and reserved attitude; he is richly dressed in superimposed and artfully shaded silk robes. He is not a newcomer to Europe, and when we say that he is one of the most enlightened men in China, the most favourable to European civilisation, it is not in order to use a banal formula of politeness imposed on us by the duties of hospitality.

After the signing of the Shfu Convention, Kwo-sung-tao was sent by his government as a delegate to London. In addition to his official mission, he was charged with keeping a sort of diary of his personal impressions of the manners and institutions of Europe.


The Chinese fine arts are of great interest, but it is to be regretted that the specimens are not more numerous.

The five classes of the group are, however, represented; the oil painting class has an old painting sent from Foochow by M. le vicomte de Bezaure.

Painting on rice paper is one of the curiosities of Chinese art; but one is forced to recognise that the artists have, if not everything, at least much to learn as regards perspective. If detail is meticulously observed and rendered, perspective is absolutely lacking.

On the subject of portraits, a genre of art that is very dear, it seems, to the Chinese, - Messrs Lamarre and Fontpertuis give a curious detail:
"The Chinese are very fond of portraits, it seems; but their practice in this kind of painting differs totally from ours. Lord Macartney, when he went on an embassy to Peking, brought with him a certain number of portraits, works of the best English artists, to offer as a present to the Son of Heaven. The mandarins, on seeing these portraits, understood nothing of the play of light and shade which differentiated their hues, and asked earnestly if their originals had one part of the face of one colour and the second of another. The shadow of the nose in particular seemed to them to be a great defect: some were inclined to believe that it was there only by accident. The taste which is the law in the Celestial Empire requires that a portrait should always look at the spectator, that it should therefore always be painted from the front, and in such a way that the two parts of the face are entirely similar.


China, which was formerly called the country of the Tsin-jin, which meant men of the Tsin, the name of the reigning dynasty, owes its name of Tchina or China to the Malays, who called it thus during the first century after Jesus Christ.

It seems that even today the Chinese take the qualification of Thsing men, from the name of the dynasty of their emperor.

The Chinese empire occupies about fourteen million square kilometres.

Its population, the figure of which is not exactly known in Europe, must be nearly five hundred and forty million inhabitants.

The public revenue may be estimated at about seven hundred million francs.


The General Directorate of Chinese Customs, which organised the exhibition of its nationals, gives some very curious information on clothing in China:
The Chinese costume is of the simplest, and, except for the ceremonial dress for the officials, it is the same for everybody, the only difference consisting in the material of the cloth.

The socks are of cotton, quilted and quilted in winter. On these socks the legs of the cloth or silk trousers are tied with blue or brightly coloured garters. They are fastened at the hips with a belt with tassels falling on the left side; on the chest, a canvas or silk breastplate is worn, suspended from the neck by a chain, and tightened around the torso by two cords. The shirt falls floating on the trousers; short, it goes down only a little below the hips; opened in all its length on the front, it is attached on the side. Over the trousers, the elegant wear leggings tied at the instep and held at the belt by braces. A long dress, fastened at the side, is worn over the shirt: it is tightened at the waist by a belt, the clasp of which is often inlaid with jewels, and from which one hangs the joke, the pipe, the fan, the watch in its embroidered case, and sometimes a bag containing the bottle-tabatière; for they do not possess pockets. In winter the dress is padded or lined, as well as the leggings. In the visits of ceremony, one passes on this dress an overcoat of dark colour, shorter than the dress, opened on the front, buttoned right, slit on the two sides and behind; to the neck is then added a collar of blue satin of sky. The braid always hangs externally.

The conical summer hat is made of straw, rattan or gauze, topped with a tassel of red horsehair or a silk taper of the same colour.

The winter hat is a skullcap, with almost perpendicularly raised edges, made of cloth or fur. Always black, it is topped with a red silk taper and a button for civil servants, who are the only ones allowed to wear it with fur. Small caps of black, blue or yellow silk, or horsehair, topped with a red or blue cord knot are also worn without ceremony.

For Tartar women, the bib, shirt and trousers, tied over the socks with a brightly coloured ribbon, are identical to the men's clothing, except that they are more or less ornate. Around the waist is tied a pleated apron forming a petticoat; over this is a long dress, without a belt, covering the foot and leaving only the high white sole of the shoe sticking out. This long dress, slit on all four sides, allows the pleated skirt to be seen while walking; over this dress is added a shorter tunic of a different colour from that of the dress and apron.

The dress is the same for the Chinese woman, except for the upper dress, which is shorter and falls below the knee, leaving the trousers visible, which are not covered by skirts. Chinese women are also distinguished from Tartar women by their small deformed feet. All of them know how to use false hair and horsehair wigs when necessary. They decorate their hair with natural or artificial flowers. The latter come from the south; but Amoy is especially famous for this article. These flowers, admirably imitated, are made from the unwound pith of the Aralia papyrifera.

The hair is exported from China to Europe for the manufacture of wigs, false toupees, etc.

The northern provinces of Chihli and Shantung specialise in woven wheat straw hats. In Ningpo, a type of rush, cultivated for this purpose, replaces straw in the making of summer hats. Finally, in the southern provinces, bamboo and the leaves of various species of palm trees provide, together with rattan, the materials for the manufacture of light hats, worn by all classes of society.

chinese ink.

Chinese ink is always in sticks made of lampblack and glue. The best is made at Hweichow-fu, in the province of Anhwei. It is made by burning pine branches in long ovens, the thick smoke of which condenses on the far sides of the fire. In the past, petroleum oil was used to obtain a higher quality of black. Nowadays, large quantities of ordinary ink are produced in Hankow and Shanghai by burning pig fat or common oils. The black, being carefully sifted, is mixed in equal parts with the glue. The most esteemed is made of rice water and gelatine from the coction of deer horns; but strong glue or fish glue is most often used. Amber, musk or camphor, added to the mixture, gives the ink that special scent which makes it recognisable as real. The mixture, having been strongly beaten and kneaded, is pressed into wooden moulds, where it takes the desired shape. The loaves are then dried by placing them, previously wrapped in fine paper, in a mixture of wood ash and powdered lime, or in a drying oven. The best qualities of ink are in fairly small sticks; they should have a brownish sheen and a fairly high density; they harden and become more expensive with age.

Stamping ink, which is widely used in China, is made from vermilion ground with castor oil.

The Chinese now use many foreign colours, although they also have some very fine indigenous colours. Among the mineral colours, we may mention orpiment, copper oxide and acetate, iron oxides, vermilion, cobalt blue, lead white, etc. Vermilion is very well known. Vermilion is very famous and is manufactured in Canton, as is Prussian blue. The province of Fukien supplies the best. It is obtained by mixing two pounds of sulphur with one pound of mercury and sublimating the mixture. The crystals thus obtained are reduced to a fine powder; the powder is levigated, then dried on tiles. Yunnan-fu or Yunnan and Taiping-fu, in Anhwei, supply large quantities; Hankow exports a lower quality. Prussian blue is made according to the old European processes which the Chinese learned from the Dutch. Minium and guillotine are made by burning lead. Ceruse or lead white is made in the province of Kwangtung, in Chêhkiang and Chihli, by reacting vinegar on lead tubes enclosed in a barrel, which is placed in a large jar filled with hot ashes. The most commonly used vegetable colours are saffron, turmeric, safflower, madder and Chinese green.


The mulberry silkworm, Sericaria mon, is the one that provides the immense quantity of silk that China produces each year. However, there are other silk-producing insects in China which we are trying to acclimatise in Europe. These are the oak silkworm, Attacus Pernyi, and the ailanthe silkworm, Attacus Cynthia vera. The former supplies the so-called Pongee silk, whose great export market is Chefoo in Shantung, but which can be found as far away as Mongolia and in the mountains of Yunnan and Kweichow. This silk, which is remarkable for its strength and cheapness (5 piasters for a 20-metre piece), is highly valued by the Chinese and foreigners for summer clothing. Unfortunately, it cannot be dyed any colour other than black or grey, and it has an unpleasant odour. As for ailanthe silk, it is not exported.

The manufacture of silk in China dates back to ancient times. According to popular tradition, it was in 1602 B.C. that the wife of the emperor Hwangti discovered the means of reeling cocoons and using the thread. Reliable Chinese books show that the cultivation of the mulberry tree and the rearing of silkworms date back to 780 BC. Ancient documents often refer to it, and sericulture has always been favoured by the government as a national industry. In the neighbourhood of Chinkiang, where almost all the mulberry trees were destroyed during the occupation of the country by the Taiping rebels, the local government distributed free mulberry plants to the inhabitants from Huchow, a country famous for the excellence of its silks. Men skilled in the silk industry were also called in to re-teach the locals an art they had forgotten. Such was the success of this liberal enterprise that the Director of Customs was able to write in his report for the years 1871-72: "The worms fed on these trees produce a quarter of the silk said to be equal to that of Huchow, and there is great reason to hope that before long raw silk will figure in large quantities among the articles of ex-portation from Chinkiang." The production of silk is so considerable that every Chinese, unless he is of the poorest, can clothe himself with it. The provinces which supply the most silk for export are: Kiangsu, Anhwei, Chêhkiang and Kwangtung. The silks of the first two are far superior to those of Kwangtung.


Jewellery is not the exclusive property of women in China: men also wear it. The clasp of their belt is often of precious metal set with jade or some other valuable stone. They also wear rings on their fingers, and particularly on the thumb, made of precious stones, or of scented wood inlaid with gold or silver. A polished or cabochon-cut pearl or gemstone often adorns the front of the hat. The eyeglass case (which is made of white or smoked rock crystal), the purse, the watch case and the fan case are often embroidered with pearls and coral grains. Elegant people also wear bracelets made of wood or precious metals; but the most esteemed are those made of a single piece of light green jade. The snuffbox worn by the rich is cut from a single piece of white rock crystal or amethyst, agate or carnelian, jade or onyx. They are also available in jasper and lapis lazuli. The stopper is decorated with a pearl, coral, malachite or garnets, set in gold or silver. Small instruments of the same metal, consisting of toothpicks, earpicks, nailpicks and a moustache comb, are also worn on the buttonhole, suspended from a silver chain. Young boys also sometimes wear one or two silver earrings.

The women wear a lot of jewellery, hairpins, heavy earrings, massive bracelets made of chased or enamelled gold and silver. On their fingers, they wear rings that are heavier than they are pretty, and they protect their long nails with precious metal fingernails.
Finally, many objects and jewels are made in Canton from chased or embossed gold or silver. Most of this jewellery for foreigners consists of brooches, earrings, necklaces, rings and bracelets, card holders, etc. They are adorned with pretty medallions, which are used to decorate the jewellery. They are adorned with beautiful medallions finely carved in ivory, amber, sandalwood, mother-of-pearl and coral, all imported from India and the Philippine Islands; the tortoiseshell comes from Formosa. A kind of yellow material very similar to amber is also used for these jewels, which is none other than the upper part of the beak of a crane. In Foochow and Ningpo a number of jewels are also made for export, and they are decorated with fine blue mosaics made from the feathers of two varieties of kingfisher, Alcedo hispida and A. rengalensis. Formosa and Hainan supply silver filigree jewellery of the most charming effect.

All kinds of jewellery can be made to order, with an advance of 18 to 25% on the weight, depending on the amount of work required for the ornament: Chinese labour being very cheap, jewellery can thus be obtained at a very reasonable price. However, it should be noted that all gold jewellery and often silver jewellery is not alloyed, and this is a law of the empire: they therefore appear more expensive, for the same volume, than the same jewellery made in Europe. Being also softer, they wear and scratch faster. The gold used by the goldsmiths of Canton is imported from California, sometimes from Australia, and from the ports of North China: in Ningpo and Foochow only Chinese gold is used. As for silver, in Canton it comes from the melting of Mexican piastres; in the other ports, especially in those of the north, it is most often pure Chinese silver that is used. In Formosa and Hainan it is also supplied by these countries.


Two kinds of spirituous beverages are distinguished in China: those which are simply obtained by fermentation and those which have passed through the alembic. Sorghum and millet, as well as rice and barley, are used for the manufacture of these drinks. In the northern provinces, millet and sorghum are mainly used. With the former, a kind of wine called "yellow wine" is made; with the latter, a very strong alcohol called "burnt wine" or samshu, of which there is great consumption in all the provinces of the empire. In the central and southern provinces, rice is used for the manufacture of this spirit, and the one made at Shaohing-fu, in the province of Chêhkiang, is particularly famous, while the province of Shantung exports sorghum brandy to Canton.

The food products are very interesting to review.

We notice, among other things, the skin that forms on the bean cheese when boiled; it is removed and dried on stretched strings; it is only eaten dry.

There are also the eggs of the domestic duck; they are covered with a thick layer of clay mixed with lime, spices and rice husks. It seems that the yolk turns green, then black, and hardens, as well as the albumen, which takes on a watery green colour.

The older the duck eggs are, the better they are.

Here is a recipe that we leave to the meditation of housewives. It concerns the preservation of eggs:
The preservative shell consists of 4 pounds of ashes, 3 pounds of lime, 1/2 pound of peanut oil, 1/2 pound of tea powder, 1/2 pound of lye, 1/4 pound of liquorice root powder, mixed with a quantity of bamboo leaf ashes. About 1/4 of an inch of this composition is applied to each egg, which should be sufficient to cover one hundred eggs.

Note also shark fins, white, back and tail; shark fins, black, ventral fins; dried mussels, sugar jujubes, pine seeds, white sesame seeds, dried jellyfish, etc., etc.


As a result of the resolution taken by the 'Celestial Empire' to participate in the Exhibition of 1878, a Chinese commission was formed towards the end of 1877.

This commission was composed of Europeans occupying important functions in the Chinese customs: they were Messrs Hart, president, Glover, Detring, Bredon, Campbell and Movion. In January 1878, Paris saw the arrival of about twenty Chinese artists and workers, under the direction of an eminent architect, Mr. Sun-Ksing-Keng, and accompanied by a European interpreter. These workers immediately set to work: direct products of China, all of Paris admired their unquestionable skill and their quiet, persevering activity; their working procedures were studied with profit.


Furs is one of the important branches of Chinese industry.
The animal kingdom supplies China with many furs, especially in the northern provinces of Shengking, Chihli and Shantung. The largest markets for furs are New Chang and Tientsin. There are the magnificent skins of the Mongolian tiger, which differs from the
(The Bengal tiger differs from the Mongolian tiger by its thick woolly fur; it is also larger, and there are some that measure eight feet from the muzzle to the base of the tail. Their bones, nails, teeth and whiskers are used in medicine. The skins of the Thibetan bear, Ursus Thibetanus, which also exists in Manchuria, are still found in the North. Tobacco is widely grown in the North; it is dried quickly and cabbage oil is added to prevent it from pulverising.

The forestry industry produces remarkably beautiful oak wood; this oak comes from the northern provinces of the empire.


The umbrella or parasol and the fan are two clothing accessories known in China from time immemorial and characteristic of that people. From the first mandarins of the empire to the last common man, no one in China can do without these objects. The parasol is even one of the honorary insignia of the mandarin hierarchy, and has a place in all ceremonies. The fan is not reserved for women alone: it is found in the hand of the emperor as well as in that of the coolie, the difference being only in the shape and material of the object.

The fan industry occupies thousands of hands in China, and each place seems to have a speciality of form or workmanship. There are two main categories of fans, the one that closes in more or less numerous folds, and the one that is made in one piece and that we call screen.

The fan with folds is made of bamboo, precious wood, sandal and others, ivory and tortoiseshell. Peking specialises in fans made of dark wood and black paper, on which are glued drawings or characters in golden paper of the most charming effect. In Canton, fans made of painted paper with ivory figures are the most common, followed by fans made of sandalwood, lacquered wood, ivory, tortoiseshell, etc.; the latter are especially intended for export.

As for the screens, they are made of silk gauze stretched over a frame and embroidered, like those of Tsinan-fu in Shantung, or of fine gauze glued to an assembly of fine bamboo ribs, like those of Swatow: these are adorned with fine paintings and are invariably yellow in colour. There are also screens made of a thin silk drum, both surfaces of which are decorated with various paintings or pretentious sentences. The tail feathers of the eagle, joined together on a hard wooden handle, provide a highly esteemed screen in Peking, while in the province of Kwangtung the feathers of the argus and of the many brilliant pheasants of Yünnan provide charming screens enhanced by the feathers of the heron and the kingfisher. The plant world is also put to requisition, and the leaves of one or more varieties of palm, Chamœrops excelsa, C. Fortunei, etc., are easily made into fans. Formosa supplies fans made of Areca catechu leaf, decorated with brown designs, traced with burning charcoal. In Canton the leaves are soaked for a fortnight, then dried over a low fire, which makes them polished: they are then edged with silk ribbon or rattan, fixed to the petiole by two plates of flake and two copper rivets. These palm leaf fans are exported extensively to the United States, India, South America and Europe.


The art of glassmaking, which is very little developed in China, seems, according to Chinese historians, to have been imported from India around the second century AD. It has been so little perfected or extended that no ancient glasses are to be found, and even today the town of Poshan-hien in Shantung seems to be the only one where glass is made from scratch, by melting, with saltpetre, a kind of calcareous sandstone found in the surrounding mountains. By adding iron pyrite, iron or copper oxides or lead salts to the crucible, the various colours are obtained. The glass is melted with coal and cast into bars or ingots, which are then exported to Peking to the imperial glassworks or to Canton. There this glass is remelted and made into a thousand small objects which are also made in Shau-tung. The powders used in Peking to make the so-called cloisonne enamels also come from the Poshan-hien glassworks. In Canton and Shanghai, broken glass from abroad is also melted down; in the latter port, some glassmakers have recently learned the art of glassmaking from foreigners; they make common glass, mirrors, drinking glasses, and bottles or flasks of rather primitive shapes. However, European-style glass is beginning to be adopted in the ports, and is gradually taking the place of oyster shells in the South and paper in the North. The small glass mirrors made in Canton are becoming more and more widespread in the interior, from which the antique mirror, made of polished and amalgamated bronze, tends to disappear. However, common porcelain will continue to take the place of our glass for a long time to come, given its low price.


From the industrial and commercial point of view, as well as from the point of view of art, in terms of goldsmithing, the manufacture of enamels known as cloisonné occupies the first rank in China. The Chinese and Manchu name of these articles "fa lan," and the date of the oldest, seem to indicate that they were imported into China from the kingdom of France, then called "Fa lan si," by the Jesuit missionaries. Indeed, not only cloisonné enamel, but also plain enamel on copper, similar to some Limoges enamels, can be found in China.

Cloisonné enamels do not belong to the class of enamels known as champ levé, whose compartments or partitions are obtained by engraving the metal in hollow. This is how it is done in Peking, which is the centre of this industry: on the vase or copper object to be enamelled, the desired design is traced with a point, generally arabesques or flowers. A thin copper ribbon is then applied to this design, held in place with molten resin. The points of contact are then sprinkled with silver solder filings, and the object, enclosed in an iron sleeve, is exposed to a charcoal fire. Once the soldering is complete, the enamel is applied. This enamel is made exclusively in Poshan-hien, in Shantung, by a few families who possess the secret of the colours, many of which are now lost, including the reds, yellows and blues of the Ming period. The enamel, reduced to a very fine powder by grinding and levigation, is mixed with water made mucilaginous by adding rice glue. This enamel paste is applied to the partitions with a brush; then, after drying the whole thing at a gentle temperature, the piece, enclosed in an iron casing, is subjected to a high temperature which melts the enamel. When all the cavities have been filled by touching up, the surface is joined with a file and then with a sandstone. The visible copper parts are then polished and gilded with mercury. Some manufacturers have even learned from one of our missionaries currently in Peking the process of gilding with a battery.
Thanks to the large-scale export of these objects over the past few years, the price of these objects has fallen considerably.

At Foochow, and especially Kiungchow, on the island of Hainan, charming silver boxes and objects are made, covered in places with a thin layer of semi-transparent enamel, generally of a blue or violet colour.


Let us conclude with an interesting anecdote which we borrow from M. Adolphe Bitard:
"The Chinese are familiar with the inventions of the Western Barbarians, whose lessons they readily accept, but whose goods they reject as far as possible.

"Without doubt, the Middle Kingdom has bought cannons, steamships, and machines of all kinds from Europe, but mainly as models; it has even asked for instructors for its workers, mainly from France. Today, cannons and machines are made in China by skilful Chinese workers, and the Europeans have their initiation costs covered.

"As for the railways, in 1874, a Shanghai newspaper, the Hwei Pao, put forward, in order to reject their immediate introduction into China, economic considerations of real value, which we cannot set out here because they call for discussion, but which prove that there is something more in this ostracism than a stubbornness as ridiculous as it is obstinate. However, since, despite the opposition of the press and the formal prohibition of the government, a railway has been operating in China, it seems interesting to us to give a brief history of it.

"It was already rumoured, at the time we have just mentioned, as the Hviei Pao alludes to it, that an English company had been formed in Shanghai for the construction and operation of a short railway line putting this city in communication with Woosung, at the mouth of the IIwangpo. The line was built on a piece of land that was supposedly purchased for a carriage road. The "carriage road" was completed, rails were laid, and a small, modest-looking engine was brought from England; finally, the railway from Shanghai to Woosung was opened to traffic in April 1876. On the following 24 May, the service was suspended due to the threat of a popular uprising. The "horse of iron and fire" had had the clumsiness to crush a few fanatics, driven, it is said, to suicide by the mandarins, furious at the audacity of the Westerners. After many useless steps, which lasted several months, the service was nevertheless resumed, and the English engineers were already imagining that they would soon be covering the soil of the empire with railway lines, so great was the success of the first one, and so fruitful was its operation, when a sudden blow, perfectly unexpected, came to tear them away from this beautiful dream.

"On November 29, 1877, by supreme order, the railway from Shanghai to Woosung ceased to operate. The locomotives were dismantled, the rails torn from the ground, and the whole thing shipped to Formosa Island. Engineers, mechanics and employees received their passports to Europe, with orders to leave without delay. The railway had lived in China.

"There is more, however: the latest Indo-China mail informs us, in fact, that the Chinese government has just had the telegraph wires established on the proscribed line torn from their posts.

"Now, if one wishes to judge the incident impartially, it must be remembered that the line from Shanghai to Woosung had been established in defiance of the Government's categorical defence, so much so that the use to which the so-called carriage road under construction was put had been concealed until the end. This was a serious grievance, and we need not concern ourselves with the antagonism which exists in China, to a degree we do not suspect, between the officials and the agricultural and industrial population, to explain the final failure of the first Chinese railway.

But why," it will be objected, "did the Government of the Celestial Empire allow this doomed line to operate for eighteen months without saying anything?

"Perhaps so that the most intelligent of its workers might have time to learn. If, as they say, it was the Chinese who dismantled the Shanghai locomotives, there is no doubt that they are capable of reassembling them and consequently of building others. - But do not think that China has given up on railways.

©Les Merveilles de l'Exposition de 1878