M. Painlevé, French Prime Minister before M. Clemenceau, made, on the return from his recent official visit to China, a few remarks to his interviewers to this effect: ‘Everywhere I go in this great Republic, I find new forces at work. All the departments of the national life are showing change and animation. The great movements toward modernization are all but invisible; but gradually and slowly they are doing the work of transformation at the very roots of this ancient civilization, and in time they will manifest themselves in all vigor and strength. I see great promise for this great land.’
M. Painlevé had the double advantage of making a personal visit to the country upon which he made his observations, and of having a keen and philosophical mind, which is not satisfied with the veneer of things, but penetrates into their very heart and essence. His conclusions, which some will perhaps regard as over-enthusiastic, are, nevertheless, perfectly sound. We must constantly bear in mind that, with the mental habits inherited from centuries of a unitary civilization, and with an extent of territory larger than that of the United States and a population exceeding that of any other country in the world, it is no simple task for a people to adapt itself to a new environment, which is absolutely foreign to it. The new ideas which M. Painlevé saw stirring the minds of the different classes of people in China must of necessity be slow and steady in their operations; and to those who are not familiar with Chinese life must seem negligible quantities because they are invisible. But they are not negligible. Anyone will admit that if one set of forces plays in any great measure upon another set of forces, it is bound to introduce new phases of activity. Now a set of forces, visibly embodied in all the concessions, extra-territorial rights, treaty ports, and many other privileges forced from her in the last three quarters of a century, has been acting on China, with the inevitable result that she is no longer treading her ancient path; nor is it any more possible for her to do that, even if she wished, than for America to keep herself immune from the influence of European thought.