Montesquieu

What is sin­gu­lar is that the Chinese, whose lives are enti­rely regu­la­ted by the rites, are never­the­less the most dupli­ci­tous peo­ple on earth. This appears espe­cially in com­merce, which has never been able to ins­pire in them the good faith that is natu­ral to it. The buyer must bring his own scale,1 each mer­chant having three : a heavy one for buying, a light one for sel­ling, and an accu­rate one for those who are on their guard. I think I can explain this contra­dic­tion.

China’s legis­la­tors had two objec­ti­ves : they wan­ted the peo­ple to be sub­mis­sive and tran­quil, and to be hard-wor­king and indus­trious. By the nature of the cli­mate and the ter­rain they have a pre­ca­rious life ; they can assure their living only by dint of indus­try and labor.

When eve­ryone obeys and eve­ryone works, the state is in a happy situa­tion. It is neces­sity, and per­haps the nature of the cli­mate, which have given every Chinese an uni­ma­gi­na­ble avi­dity for gain, and the laws have made no attempt to check it. Everything has been for­bid­den where acqui­si­tion by vio­lence was concer­ned ; eve­ry­thing has been allo­wed when it was a mat­ter of obtai­ning through arti­fice or indus­try. Let us the­re­fore not com­pare the mora­lity of the Chinese with that of Europe. Everyone in China has had to focus on what was use­ful to him : if the thief has loo­ked after his inte­rests, the dupe has nee­ded to think of his own. In Lacedæmon it was per­mis­si­ble to steal ; in China it is per­mis­si­ble to deceive.

Journal of Lange in 1721 and 1722, vol. VIII of Voyages du Nord, p. 363.