would be obliged to bid against one another 
in order to get it. If in such a country the 
wages of labour had ever been more than sufficient 
to maintain the labourer, and to enable 
him to bring up a family, the competition of 
the labourers and the interest of the masters 
would soon reduce them to the lowest rate 
which is consistent with common humanity. 
China has been long one of the richest, that 
is, one of the most fertile, best cultivated
most industrious, and most populous, countries 
in the world. It seems, however, to have 
been long stationary. Marco Polo, who visited 
it more than five hundred years ago, describes 
its cultivation, industry, and populousness
almost in the same terms in which they 
are described by travellers in the present 
times. It had, perhaps, even long before his 
time, acquired that full complement of riches 
which the nature of its laws and institutions 
permits it to acquire. The accounts of all 
travellers, inconsistent in many other respects
agree in the low wages of labour, and in the 
difficulty which a labourer finds in bringing 
up a family in China. If by digging the 
ground a whole day he can get what will purchase 
a small quantity of rice in the evening, 
he is contented. The condition of artificers 
is, if possible, still worse. Instead of waiting 
indolently in their work-houses for the calls 
of their customers, as in Europe, they are 
continually running about the streets with the 
tools of their respective trades, offering their 
services, and, as it were, begging employment
The poverty of the lower ranks of people in 
China far surpasses that of the most beggarly 
nations in Europe. In the neighborhood of 
Canton, many hundred, it is commonly 
said, many thousand families have no habitation 
on the land, but live constantly in little 
fishing-boats upon the rivers and canals
The subsistence which they find there is so 
scanty, that they are eager to fish up the nastiest 
garbage thrown overboard from any European 
ship. Any carrion, the carcase of a 
dead dog or cat, for example, though half putrid 
and stinking, is as welcome to them as 
the most wholesome food to the people of 
other countries. Marriage is encouraged in 
China, not by the profitableness of children, 
but by the liberty of destroying them. In 
all great towns, several are every night exposed 
in the street, or drowned like puppies in 
the water. The performance of this horrid 
office is even said to be the avowed business 
by which some people earn their subsistence
China, however, though it may, perhaps, 
stand still, does not seem to go backwards
Its towns are nowhere deserted by their inhabitants
The lands which had once been cultivated
are nowhere neglected. The same, 
or very nearly the same, annual labour, must, 
therefore, continue to be performed, and the 
funds destined for maintaining it must not, 
consequently, be sensibly diminished. The 
lowest class of labourers, therefore, notwithstanding 
their scanty subsistence, must some 
way or other make shift to continue their 
race so far as to keep up their usual numbers. 
But it would be otherwise in a country 
where the funds destined for the maintenance 
of labour were sensibly decaying. Every year 
the demand for servants and labourers would, 
in all the different classes of employments, be 
less than it had been the year before. Many 
who had been bred in the superior classes, not 
being able to find employment in their own 
business, would be glad to seek it in the lowest
The lowest class being not only overstocked 
with its own workmen, but with the 
overflowings of all the other classes, the competition 
for employment would be so great in 
it, as to reduce the wages of labour to the 
most miserable and scanty subsistence of the 
labourer. Many would not be able to find 
employment even upon these hard terms, but 
would either starve, or be driven to seek a subsistence
either by begging, or by the perpetration, 
perhaps, of the greatest enormities. Want, 
famine, and mortality, would immediately prevail 
in that class, and from thence extend themselves 
to all the superior classes, till the number 
of inhabitants in the country was reduced to 
what could easily be maintained by the revenue 
and stock which remained in it, and which 
had escaped either the tyranny or calamity 
which had destroyed the rest. This, perhaps, 
is nearly the present state of Bengal, and of 
some other of the English settlements in the 
East Indies. In a fertile country, which had 
before been much depopulated, where subsistence
consequently, should not be very difficult
and where, notwithstanding, three or 
four hundred thousand people die of hunger 
in one year, we may be assured that the funds 
destined for the maintenance of the labouring 
poor are fast decaying. The difference between 
the genius of the British constitution, 
which protects and governs North America, 
and that of the mercantile company which oppresses 
and domineers in the East Indies
cannot, perhaps, be better illustrated than by 
the different state of those countries
The liberal reward of labour, therefore, as 
it is the necessary effect, so it is the natural 
symptom of increasing national wealth. The 
scanty maintenance of the labouring poor, on 
the other hand, is the natural symptom that 
things are at a stand, and their starving condition
that they are going fast backwards
In Great Britain, the wages of labour seem, 
in the present times, to be evidently more 
than what is precisely necessary to enable the 
labourer to bring up a family. In order to 
satisfy ourselves upon this point, it will not 
be necessary to enter into any tedious or 
doubtful calculation of what may be the lowest 
sum upon which it is possible to do this. 
There are many plain symptoms, that the 
wages of labour are nowhere in this country