China and the Chinese by Herbert Allen Giles

Every Friday, Marilyn Knapp Litt, who blogs at, brings us her recommendation of a free classic book to discover (or rediscover) on Kindle. Find more of Marilyn’s recommendations at her blog,, a guide to the best free and inexpensive classic literature for the Kindle. You can also get Marilyn’s blog on Kindle and I recommend that you “Like” the Classic Kindle Facebook page as well so you don’t miss anything. Here’s Marilyn’s post:

I think I have found the origin of a “fact” that my high school civics teacher repeatedly impressed us with in 1966.

“If the Chinese people were to file one by one past a given point, the interesting procession would never come to an end. Before the last man of those living to-day had gone by, another and a new generation would have grown up, and so on forever and ever.”

However, my teacher put it much more crudely. The hypothetical given point was over a cliff . . .

But despite this unpromising beginning, China and the Chinese is a very highly rated book from 1902. It was written by British diplomat Herbert Allen Giles who was a pioneer in translating Chinese into English.

One Amazon Reviewer says:

This book makes enjoyable reading for anyone interested in Chinese culture. The writing is highly conversational, breaking up information in easily digestable bits. Many observations he made are as relevant today as they were almost 110 years ago, while the others are completely outdated.

The book is a series of lectures and quite a bit of it is on the Chinese language. Of course this will not appeal to everyone.

Other portions of the book are good fun:

There is a well-known Chinese story which tells how a very stingy man took a paltry sum of money to an artist—payment is always exacted in advance—and asked him to paint his portrait. The artist at once complied with his request, but in an hour or so, when the portrait was finished, nothing was visible save the back of the sitter’s head. “What does this mean?” cried the latter, indignantly. “Oh,” replied the artist, “I thought a man who paid so little as you wouldn’t care to show his face!”

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