China and the Western World
April 1896

by Lafcadio Hearn

Though China’s political fate at the time seemed uncertain and its people set in traditional ways, Lafcadio Hearn—a Japan-based journalist known for his writings on East Asian culture—predicted that China would one day pose a formidable economic threat to the West.

The industrial competition of China would be incomparably more dangerous to Western civilization than that of any other nation … They are adepts at combination, excellent financiers, shrewd and daring speculators. Though not yet rivals of Europeans in … application of modern science to manufacture, they have given proof of ability to master that science …

Here, however, there come up some doubts … Will not the Chinaman of the year 2000 resemble in all things the familiar Chinaman of to-day? …

But modern China is not to be judged by her ancient literature, but by her present life. Men who know China also know that Chinese conservatism does not extend to those activities which belong to trade, to industry, to commerce or speculation. It is a conservatism in beliefs, ethics, and customs, and has nothing to do with business.

Vol. 77, No. 462, pp. 450–464


A Plea for the Recognition of the Chinese Republic
January 1913

by Ching Chun Wang

About a year after revolutionaries had overthrown the Qing Dynasty and established a new government, Ching Chun Wang, a Chinese railway official and representative of the emergent republic, made a case for international recognition.

The Chinese millions have given the world the greatest revolution of modern times in the most civilized manner known to history. We have emancipated ourselves from the imperial yoke, not by brute force, but by sheer reasoning and unparalleled toleration. Within the amazingly short period of four months, and without shedding over one hundredth part of the blood that has been shed in other similar revolutions, we have transformed our immense country from an empire of four thousand years’ standing into a modern democracy. After having set this new standard of sanity in revolutions, we have organized ourselves into the newest Republic, following up-to-date patterns. Now we come forward with hands and hearts open to join the sisterhood of nations, and all we ask is that the world will permit us to join its company …

The recognition itself may not mean much, but at this critical moment, when China has the re-making of herself in hand, and when not every nation is too glad to see China become strong and peaceful, every little help means a good deal. Indeed, a little help shown us to-day means a thousand times the value of the same help if it is shown us in a year to come. We need help and encouragement. We need help now.

Vol. 111, No. 1, pp. 42–45

In China, Too
January 1923

by Pearl S. Buck

In 1923, Pearl S. Buck, an American-born writer who had been raised in China and continued to live and teach there with her husband, reflected on the social and cultural changes transforming China’s young people. She went on to write many books, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for her novel The Good Earth, and the 1938 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Yesterday … little Hsu Bao-ying came to visit me. I have known her since she was a mite, with a fat, solemn dumpling of a face … Her parents are of the good old conservative type, not believing in overmuch book-knowledge for a girl, and with an eye to a good husband and mother-in-law for the child. An older married sister, advanced in views through a five years’ residence in Shanghai, had teased them into sending Bao-ying to a boarding-school in the nearest city. When the child left last for school, last autumn, she was a tractable, meek, sweet-faced little thing, rather frightened at the prospect of leaving home. She had the patient air which all little Chinese girls have who are enduring foot-binding. I had never heard her volunteer a remark, and in my presence she had always been particularly awed and reverential …

Yesterday she came in a delicate blue satin of a more fashionable cut than I had ever seen; her feet were unbound and in little clumping, square, black-leather foreign shoes …

I could not but comment on her unusual footgear.

‘It is the very latest fashion,’ she replied with great satisfaction. ‘You know that, of course, in the big cities like Peking and Shanghai, the really fashionable girls do not bind their feet any more. At the boarding-school they don’t either; and so, when I came home, I cried for three days, without food, until for peace they un-bound my feet so that I might wear these beautiful American shoes. My feet are still too small, but I stuff cotton in the toes.’

Here was change, indeed! I fell back astounded in my chair. There she sat, slim, exquisite, and complacent, but no longer one to be condescended to, and not at all reverential.

Vol. 131, No. 1, pp. 68–72

 

China Emergent
May 1942

by Madame Chiang Kai-shek

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.

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 …

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 the 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.

Vol. 169, No. 5, pp. 533–537

In China
March 1979

by Arthur Miller

After a 1978 visit to China, the renowned playwright Arthur Miller shared his impressions of the country, taking note of its cultural isolation.

It was still early in our Chinese voyage and I did not yet know what I would know soon: Chinese, like the French, have little interest in traveling abroad since their country is the center of the world. It is always drought, flood, famine, some desperate circumstance that sends them out of China, rarely curiosity.

I asked Chiao Yu [a Chinese poet and playwright], “Do you get to see much foreign literature?”

“Yes, a little.”

“Any American?”

“We have one book in the Writers Union translated from America.”

“Which is that?”

Jonathan Seagull. But so far it is only available to Union members, not the public.”

“That’s the only recent American book translated?”

“I have also read Love Story. What do you think of those books?”

It was impossible to tell from his expression whether he wanted a compliment on the Chinese having translated these books or a confirmation of his own low opinion of them.

“They’re all right,” I said, “but we have better ones.” He nodded, still neutrally. “Why were those books selected for translation, do you know?”

“Because they were so popular. It was thought that they would help us to understand the Americans.”

“Ah …”

I was astounded by the ignorance of this writer facing me across the soda pop and the apples and candy on this lovely afternoon, until an old joke about the English passed through my mind, the one about the London headline: “Dense Fog—Continent Isolated.” How many Chinese writers did I know, free as I was to read anything? And had he not a better right than I to provincial sequestration when there were going on one billion Chinese, a quarter of the human race, while there were only two hundred million or so Americans? In fact, he had more compatriots than the populations of Europe, Russia, and half of India combined. Who was the provincial?

I thought about this a long time and decided that he was.

Vol. 243, No. 3, pp. 90–117