150 Years Of The Atlantic July/August 2007

CHINA

This is the 17th in a series of archival excerpts in honor of the magazine’s 150th anniversary. For the full text of these articles, visit www.theatlantic.com/ideastour.

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

 

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