China Emergent

In the midst of World War II, as China's Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-shek, struggled against Japanese invaders from without and the Communist movement from within, his Wellesley College–educated wife decried the exploitation of China by the West and delineated a vision for a more democratic future.

It may not seem to be the best of good sense to prepare plans for architectural improvements while the house is still afire and one is having hard work to extinguish the flames. Yet the United Nations realize that after the war is won new problems will automatically arise which will demand for their solution as much thought, devotion, and practical application of idealism as winning the war itself. While it is true that in the midst of life there is death, it is equally true that in the midst of death there is life.

We in China, though we have been harried for years by death and destruction, have been giving careful thought toward the perfection of a political and social system that will ensure in the future the greatest good for the greatest number. All the existing systems of government in the world—and this applies non-aggressive as well as to the aggressive nations—are being. weighed in the remorseless balance of war. Some we are sure will not survive the test, but all have shown weaknesses that call for drastic alterations. ‘It is only the very wisest and the very stupidest who never change,’ observed one of our sages.

We have chosen the path that we shall tread in the future. We are determined that there shall be no more exploitation of China. I have no wish to harp on old grievances, but realism demands that I should mention the ruthless and shameless exploitation of our country by the West in the past and hard-dying illusion that the best way to win our hearts was to kick us in the ribs. Such asinine stupidities must never be repeated, as much for your own sake as for ours. America and Britain have already shown their consciousness of error by voluntarily offering to abrogate the iniquitous system of extraterritoriality that denied China her inherent right to equality with other nations.

While as a nation we are resolved that we will not tolerate foreign exploitation we are equally determined that within our country there be no exploitation of any section of society by any other section or even by the state itself. The possession of wealth does not confer upon the wealthy the right to take unfair advantage of the less fortunate. But neither, as a nation, does China believe in communism or wish to obtain it in our land. We have no use for most isms which pose as panaceas for all the ills of the human race. In fact all forms of authoritarianism adopted by some European countries, Japan, and certain Latin American republics (which in late years have flirted a little, discreetly perhaps, with dictatorship) leave the Chinese people cold. We are disposed to be politely skeptical of sweeping claims such as are made by Henry George's single-taxers, who believe that all that is wrong with the world could be righted by a tax on land values.

In post-war China, although we shall not countenance exploitation, international or national, we shall grant private capital its rightful place, for it implements individual initiative, and we Chinese, being realists, fully recognize basic facts. Our age-old civilization has been developed through harmonizing conditions as they existed and as they ideally should be. But no individual will be permitted to wax rich at the expense of others. The rights of the people will be protected by progressive taxation. I maintain that when incomes exceed legitimate needs and a reasonable margin to ensure freedom from want the excess should belong to humanity. On the other hand, private capital must be given every encouragement to develop the resources and industry of the country—but only in cooperation with labor. All public utilities should be state-owned.

Any governmental policy in China ought to take cognizance of the all-important fact that we are an agricultural nation. Over 90 per cent of our people are dependent directly or indirectly upon the land—the overwhelming proportion directly. It follows that the nation cannot flourish unless the farmers are prosperous. At present they are enjoying a degree of prosperity undreamed of since the Golden Age. As a by-product of war, prices for all that comes from the land have increased so much that the standard of living of the rural population has reached a height that did not seem possible. Children are attending school who formerly would never have had a chance of education; homes that have been perforce mere inadequate protection from the elements are being made hygienic and comfortable. This is as it should be.

We want these gains held and consolidated. This vision of a better life that has been given to the backbone of our nation must not be dimmed by the policy bequeathed us by the conservative past. There has been one fly in the ointment—there always is: while those who live on and by the land have prospered, government employees and men and women classed as intellectuals have been having a hard time to make ends meet. But they represent a very small percentage of our people; when victory is won, a permanent solution of their difficulties will be arrived at. It is significant, however, that the masses of our people are now following the path of progress and happiness, from which I hope they will never swerve, certainly not as a consequence of any act of omission or commission by our government.

We are striving to institute a flexible system of political and economic development that will serve the future as well as the present. This attempt started directly China became a republic, thirty-one years ago, and has continued even throughout the war years. In order to give our people fuller and better opportunities for a well-rounded and happier life, a new kind of Chinese socialism, based on democratic principles, is evolving. It is no mere pale reflection of Western socialism. China colors all seas that wash her shores. We do not necessarily reject everything the West has to offer; to views of modern socialists we lend a willing ear, more especially as most of their ideas find their counterpart in the third of the three principles envisaged by our late leader, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, upon which our whole ideology is based. These three principles are: first, Nationalism; second, the People's Rights; third, the People’s Livelihood. Nationalism means that there should be equality among all peoples and races, and that all peoples and races should respect each other and live in peace and harmony. The People’s Rights means that the people should have these four rights: election, recall, initiative, and referendum. The People’s Livelihood means that people are entitled to proper clothing, food, housing, and communications.

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Cryotherapy's Dubious Appeal

James Hamblin tries a questionable medical treatment.


Confessions of Moms Around the World

In Europe, mothers get maternity leave, discounted daycare, and flexible working hours.


How Do Trees Know When It's Spring?

The science behind beautiful seasonal blooming
More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In