FIVE years ago, at the height of one of those perennial civil wars which have racked North China ever since, a quiet, elderly Chinese in neat Western costume landed at Hongkong, the British-owned island just off the southern coast. He had come to seek England’s help in establishing an efficient civil government in Canton. But, although he was banqueted by the Governor, the desired assistance did not materialize. Sun Yat-sen was indignant. ‘The British,’ he said, ‘think that I am not of sufficient importance. They want a strong man with whom to deal. But whatever happens they will eventually have to reckon with me. For I am the strong man of China.’
Sun Yat-sen was right. Since his death two years ago he has become in the realm of ideas a more powerful figure than any militarist who ever cursed the country. More than that, his political organization, the Kuomintang (National People’s Party), has beaten the Northern war lords at their own game over two thirds of China proper. Most significant of all, the Chinese Revolution, for which he gave forty years of ceaseless effort, and of which the present Nationalist movement is the concrete expression, is fast becoming a nation-wide reality. The China of the ‘opium war’ and of the Treaty of Nanking; the China of the Boxer Protocol and the Twentyone Demands; the China, in short, of the ‘sleeping giant’ variety, is gone forever. The giant is awake — dazed and fuddled and irritable after its long sleep.
It is important, before we consider the immediate problem presented by this revolution, to notice where it originated. Ever since foreign nations have had diplomatic relations with China, these relations have been with Peking, capital city of the Manchu emperors. It was here, in 1792, that the ‘Son of Heaven’ first received homage from a British ambassador. Here England, the United States, and other nations sent their ministers and built their legations. It was against Peking that Japan waged war on China in 1895, while the mass of the Chinese people along the Yangtze and in the South sat back and shrugged their shoulders. Peking, again, was the capital of the new government that in 1912 assumed power as the Republic of China. And it has remained the capital ever since, although the name ‘republic’ soon became a mere euphemism applied by tactful diplomats to the succession of military swashbucklers who alternately bought and fought their way into power.
To the outside world, then, and to the Orient at large, Peking represented China. The literary world took up the idea. Many volumes were written in which the dominant note was the temple bell, the squeak of the wheelbarrow, or the sombre wail of a funeral horn outside the Forbidden City, while whole histories were made to revolve about the ‘dragon throne.’ Diplomats and their governments took it for granted, for all treaties had been made with Peking, negotiations must be carried on with someone, and any constitutionally organized authority, however vaporous, was to be preferred to none at all. Finally, certain foreign business interests encouraged the Peking fiction. The whole system of concession areas, limited customs schedule, and extraterritorial legal status was based on treaties concluded with the old régime in Peking.
It is this habit of interpreting the Chinese through Peking that seems to be responsible for much of the current misunderstanding of modern China. Whether or not Peking itself is doomed does not concern us here, although some Nationalists are already talking of turning it into a public museum on a massive scale. Nor will factions in the Southern ranks postpone the necessity of a shift of emphasis. What must concern us is that North China can no longer be regarded as the key to the Chinese puzzle. If we would find that key we should look among the rice fields of the South. Canton — home of revolution and base of the Nationalist movement — best represents the embryo nation, and no view of China which does not attempt to see through the eyes of Chinese nationalism is worthy of serious consideration to-day.
Less than a year ago the Nationalist Government was a nonentity outside its own Kwangtung Province. Until last August the only people who paid any attention to Canton were Hongkong merchants whose trade had been nearly wiped out by an anti-British boycott. The rest of the country, writhing under militarist oppression, was indifferent. In February 1926, I journeyed overland by rail, river, and flagstone highway from Wuchang to the South China coast. Military governors, appointees of General Wu Pei-fu, were governing Hupeh and Hunan with an iron hand, and growing rich on the opium traffic. Farmers were struggling desperately with the famine caused by floods and crop failure. Many of them had never even heard of the 1911 Revolution, and it was not surprising to find that most of them knew little about the Cantonese and cared less.
Back in Central China a month later I tried to explain some of the experiments that were being worked out down South by the political heirs of Sun Yat-sen. There was no response from the Chinese, and even tales of Red Russian advisers failed to stir the foreign press. Canton was six hundred miles by train, houseboat, and sedan chair — a full fortnight’s journey traveling ’light.’ No man in his senses, they said, would give orders to drag cannon over mountains and rice fields even if he had the army to back them. Of much greater interest was the tenmillion-dollar military note issue that Wu Pei-fu planned to force on Hankow merchants in order to hit back at Chang Tso-lin.
The change came with dramatic suddenness. In mid-July 1926 an eager band of Southerners started north. The National Revolutionary Army, they called themselves; Commander in Chief, Chiang Kai-shek; political affiliation, the Kuomintang; political faith, Sun Yat-senism. In a little over a month they had reached the Yangtze River. In a little over two months they had taken Wuchang and driven Wu Pei-fu out of Hupeh Province. Four months and they had set up a Central China administration in formal opposition to the Peking régime. And when, last March, they took Shanghai and Nanking, all the world knew that this was something vastly different from the usual civil war. Chinese nationalism at last had found expression in terms which brooked no evasion.
People often ask, ‘Why have the Nationalists been so successful ? ’ The question is hardly surprising, considering the rapidity of their advance and the hitherto effete quality of most Chinese armies. One answer is that a long period of gradual preparation and development had made of the original National Revolutionary troops who left Canton last July an army nucleus whose only notable resemblance to the conventional Northern soldier lay in the color of their skins. Another might be that in the Nationalist campaign, unlike other campaigns in China, the army is not even the chief element in the offensive. The movement lies deeper than any uniform. It is rooted in the minds of the masses.
Let us consider for a moment the inception of this Nationalist movement and the growth of its political medium, the Kuomintang. The central figure in our new perspective will be Sun Yat-sen; the centre, Canton.
Sun Yat-sen was born in Kwangtung Province in 1866. Manchu officialdom, two years before, had succeeded in suppressing the great Taiping rebellion which lasted fourteen years and caused twenty million deaths. That frenzied effort to shake the tyranny of Peking and modernize China had sprung from the South, and the next revolution might be expected from the same quarter. Kwangtung had been the first district to admit the foreigner into the Empire. It was quite fitting that it should be first also to sponsor the inevitable adjustment to those new ideas that had come in with him. So Manchu rulers took special precautions against the turbulent Cantonese, and one famous viceroy, Chang Chih-tung, is said to have purchased law and order at the rate of fifty executions a week.
The youthful Sun Yat-sen, meanwhile, had left a promising medical career to devote himself to the task of reforming his country. The first move, he saw clearly, was to eject the corrupt and incompetent Northern monarchy. He organized a band of eighteen ‘ dare-to-dies.’ But in 1895 his plans were discovered, his seventeen accomplices decapitated, and he himself was forced to flee the country.
Exile provided Sun with an opportunity to examine the political systems of the United States, England, and Switzerland — a study which influenced much of his later writing on political democracy. In 1901 he founded in Japan the Tung Men-hui (Alliance Society), a secret revolutionary organization which was later to develop into the Kuomintang. In view of the persistent suspicion that this Chinese political faction owes its existence to Soviet inspiration, it may not be superfluous to point out that the Alliance Society came into being two years before a split among Russian Social Democrats produced the first Bolsheviki.
During the decade from 1901 to 1911 the Tung Men-hui directed its efforts toward dethroning the Manchus, who were themselves foreigners, who exercised a tyranny as irksome as it was inept, and whom many Chinese held responsible for their country’s humiliating international status. A widespread underground campaign was bared on October 10, 1911, by the accidental explosion of a bomb in the Hankow concession area. The ensuing revolution resulted in the abdication of the Manchus and the inauguration of a republic under the presidency of Sun Yat-sen, with headquarters at Nanking. Their immediate object attained, members of the Tung Menhui undertook a campaign for spreading republican ideas, and drew up a programme calling for compulsory education, universal suffrage, compulsory military service, and reciprocity between China and the Powers. But the revolutionists soon found that they could not hold their gains without coöperation from the North. So they accepted advances from the chief general of the Manchu régime, Yuan Shih-hai, who consented to desert his former masters on condition that the South would not push its progressive ideas too far, the immediate results being that Sun yielded to Yuan the office of President and to Peking the distinction of remaining China’s capital.
The compromise was fatal. Yuan was a military opportunist and cared nothing for the reforms of Sun Yatsen. As head of the army he consolidated his own position in the North, sent out his lieutenants as tuchuns to rule the various provinces, and prepared to bring back the monarchy with himself as emperor. When the Tung Men-hui in 1912 joined with other revolutionary organizations to form a new revolutionary party, the Kuomintang, President Yuan declared it to be a menace to the State and ordered its suppression. After his death in 1916 his generals fell to fighting among themselves. The world forgot about Sun Yat-sen.
But the People’s Party lived on. Sun saw that nothing could be gained by trying to coöperate with military feudalism, and in 1918 he reverted to his old base, Canton, set up a Kuomintang government based on his own ‘Three People-Principles’ of Nationalism, Democracy, Socialism, and waited till he should be strong enough again to challenge Peking.
The year 1921 saw him leading an armed rabble two hundred miles north in a pathetic attempt at a second revolution. He had unlimited faith in the power of his ideas. Asked how he expected, with his ill-trained recruits, to make any impression on the disciplined forces of General Wu Pei-fu, military dictator of Central China, he replied, ‘Wu’s troops won’t fight my men. They will throw down their arms.’ Sun Yat-sen did not lack idealism, but he did lack realism. The expedition failed because of insufficient technical preparation, and treachery at home compelled the political crusader to hasten back to Canton. In 1922 he was driven temporarily from the city. On March 12, 1925, he died.
Two years before his death, however, Sun Yat-sen had taken a step which was to hasten and intensify the whole Nationalist movement, the full effect of which China and the world are only just beginning to realize to-day. This was the appeal to Russia. It was not a spontaneous action. Sun’s whole life had been bound up with the West, and every instinct prompted him to seek help from America. He tried — unofficially, of course — and failed. He sounded Germany and England with no success. Japan had already decided to throw in her lot with the North. But he was a firm believer in the necessity of foreign assistance for China’s revolution, and the Kuomintang badly needed such assistance. Rebuffed by the Great Powers, Sun Yat-sen turned to the Soviet Ambassador, and arrangements were finally concluded whereby an unofficial group of Russian military instructors and political advisers agreed to take up service with the Kuomintang government. In this way Russia, although officially maintaining the conventional relations with Peking, tacitly admitted that the future lay with the South.
Michael Borodin and his colleagues landed at Canton in September 1923. Some of them were employed in training hundreds of young student officers in Whampoa Cadet School, others helped with the organization of the various departments within the Kuomintang, while Borodin himself soon won the confidence of his Chinese associates by his sound advice and his intensely practical turn of mind. All this, together with a certain amount of aid in the shape of military supplies ‘on account,’ was of immediate value to the Canton régime. But the most distinctive contribution of the Soviet Advisory Staff was its emphasis on Sun Yat-sen’s old maxim, ‘Get out among the people!’ A member of the Russian Society of Red Professors, now teaching at the Chinese (Sun Yatsen) University in Moscow, has explained it as follows.
‘So far,’ he writes, ‘the Kuomintang still spoke in the language of the pettybourgeois revolutionary. . . . Attracted by their own military aims and political combinations, Sun Yat-sen, and the whole Kuomintang, had broken away from the vast masses and degenerated into a specifically military group which was swallowed up by its own particular business. But no revolutionary party which aims at being supported by the vast masses can ignore the organization of those masses, their education, and their ideas on the problems and aims of the fight.’
The language is studiously Marxian, but the passage expresses, even though from a Russian point of view, the real facts in the situation. Borodin changed all that. Laborers were encouraged to strike for higher wages and shorter hours. Farmers were organized into unions and were urged to demand a greater share of their own produce. These two classes together represented some eighty-five per cent of the population, and in appealing directly to them the Kuomintang, now a genuine ‘People’s Party,’ found a hitherto untapped source of strength.
For nearly a year the new régime remained in Canton consolidating its position. Men who are well-known to-day then had reputations in the making. T. V. Soong, brother-in-law of Sun Yat-sen, brought honesty to the Department of Finance and multiplied the yearly provincial income by nine; Sun Fo, son of Dr. Sun and Mayor of Canton, modernized and beautified the ancient city; General Chiang Kai-shek, head of the Whampoa Cadet School, trained a body of Kuomintang youths to be officers in the Revolutionary Army; Eugene Chen, canny Minister for Foreign Affairs, had the task of initiating foreign Powers into the new conception of Canton, rather than Peking, as the key to China’s future, and of the Nationalist Government as the only genuine political organization in the country. And binding all together was a common devotion to the departed leader and to his political ideas. Every Monday morning all government employees, in camp and in office, bowed three times before the portrait of Sun Yat-sen and repeated his last ‘will.’ Student, merchant, laborer, civil official, and army chief—all united in allegiance to him and to the Party he had founded.
Then came the time to redeem the failure of 1921 and carry Kuomintang rule northward to the Yangtze. Sun Yat-sen had sanctioned this idea in his ‘Three Stages’ scheme, in which a preliminary (military) stage of conquest was to be followed by a period of Party dictatorship on behalf of the people (tutelage), crowned only after a long process of popular education by the final (constitutional) stage. And late in July 1926 the National Revolutionary Army left Canton for the North with results which are mentioned earlier in this article, and which grow more significant with every cable dispatch from across the sea.
So much for the background. But this alone will hardly interpret the revolution which H. G. Wells has characterized as greater than the American, the French, or even the Russian, and we must risk a little analysis. And since foreign interests, whether commercial or philanthropic, are perhaps the chief bar to an impartial assessment of the situation, we shall postpone for the moment all such considerations and confine ourselves to the revolution proper. The Nationalist cyclone has struck. What does it contain of good or ill?
Many of its consequences are threatening, and they must be faced. Prominent among them is one phase of the labor movement —the destructive phase through which every such movement must pass. It would be superfluous to detail the excesses to which crowds of ignorant coolies have gone in their blind trust of those who tell them that relief from a miserably low standard of living will come only through organized violence. Impossible demands, arson, and murder have played their part in the unreasoning conflict. Labor unions have not infrequently usurped powers of arrest, trial, and execution in open and sometimes armed defiance of the Nationalist Government, the latter not daring to act for fear of losing popular support. Not least discouraging is the existence of certain unscrupulous labor leaders who exploit the credulity of the workers, force large concessions from employers, and pocket a good proportion of the profits for private consumption.
Then there is that nemesis of many a hopeful enterprise in modern China — irresponsible militarism. As indicated before, Chiang Kai-shek’s student army which initiated the Nationalist drive last July was a hand-picked organization. Drilled for months in Kuomintang principles, they were in a political sense well educated in addition to being well disciplined. They had a cause. They rarely indulged in looting. In all these respects they were vastly superior to the bandit-ridden armies of the North. But, with continued Southern victories, more and more outside soldiery flocked into the revolutionary camp. Systematic attempts were made to distribute these among loyal Kuomintang units, but the influx of raw material rapidly grew too large to be assimilated, and after the capture of Shanghai last March the tried revolutionary nucleus was nearly lost in the shuffle. This, of course, was a danger which Nationalist leaders faced when they set out to expand over two thirds of China within six months. It is a situation which produced tragic consequences at Nanking, and will have to be remedied if the Revolutionary forces are to preserve any vestige of the discipline and devotion which were responsible for all their early victories.
Very difficult to evaluate, because so hard to identify and so easily confused with other elements in the situation, is the influence of Marxian communism. Among many foreigners in China there is hardly a more capricious or magic phrase than ‘communistic influences.’ It is like a red rag to a bull; the mere mention of it causes certain people to stop thinking. That these influences exist is hardly surprising in an enterprise which has owed so much in other ways to Soviet support. That they have also been exaggerated and exploited with a view to discrediting the whole Nationalist movement is too obvious for comment. The abstract doctrines involved in communism — class war, theory of surplus value, materialistic interpretation of history — are not remotely understood by the great masses of ignorant farmers and coolies, while even ideas concerning common ownership of property and government by the ‘workers’ exist chiefly in the minds of a small but wellorganized group of Chinese radicals. The Soviet Advisory Staff aid and abet these extremists, and are themselves tolerated by the Government only because they have proved indispensable in practical matters of organization and administration. But although Sun Yat-sen in his‘Three People-Principles’ denounced the class war as ‘a disease rather than a cure’ and Marx as ‘a social pathologist rather than a social physiologist,’ and although the great majority of Party leaders disclaim any sympathy with communism, yet it is true that ‘communist influence’ as distinct from communist practice is present within at least two classes of the community. Among peasants and laborers it is apt to take the form of violence against propertied interests, merchants, and landowners. Among students it is cropping out in disregard for authority, emphasis on purely practical subjects such as science and economics, and studied contempt for the arts and for religion. Much of the ruthlessness of the Nationalist movement is indirectly due to communist philosophy, and although it is not likely to have a permanent effect on any people who, like the Chinese, have been reared for three thousand years in the doctrine of the ‘ mean,’ yet it is a factor in the bewildering situation and must be met.
There remains the danger of schism within the Kuomintang itself. Factions in the Party there have always been, and until the day of his death Sun Yat-sen had to contend with the machinations of former associates.
With the advent of the Russians and the introduction of systematic propaganda among the masses, the character of these splits tended to become less a matter of personalities and more a question of policies. At the General Congress of the Kuomintang in January 1924, the issue was clearly drawn between the Right Wing, composed of the merchants, the compradores (native middlemen), and the older and more conservative members, and the Left Wing, with which were affiliated the labor and peasant leaders and a few radical intellectuals, and of which a small but aggressive Chinese Communist Party formed the outer fringe. An open break between the two factions was inevitable after Sun Yat-sen’s death in March 1925. In August of that year the Lefts scored a coup d’état and seized power. In March 1926, Chiang Kai-shek, then head of Whampoa Cadet School, became annoyed at the growing power of the communists among the masses and in the army, and instituted a ‘clean-up’ campaign. Most of the Russian advisers had to leave Canton, and at the General Party Congress in May it was voted that thereafter no communists should be allowed in positions of high authority. But the communists soon returned to favor, and the exigencies of the Northern expedition last summer brought a semblance of unity, while a strong Moderate group, representing the best of both factions, arose within the Kuomintang.
But the aftermath of victory has opened the old wounds afresh. The recent Party rupture has been labeled a split between ‘communists,’ with headquarters at Hankow, and the ‘anticommunists’ in Shanghai and Nanking. This is hardly a fair distinction, since there are government leaders at Hankow who are not in sympathy with communism and who would be as much in favor of eliminating that doctrine as General Chiang Kai-shek himself. But the whole question of radicalism, sharpened by personal animosities, is nevertheless a very fundamental factor in the dispute. The Hankow civil authorities, having catered to organized labor, were dominated by it. The Nanking group, headed by General Chiang and much of the army, represented the more conservative moderate and Right sections of the Party. The irony of the situation to those who had looked to the Nationalist Government for permanent civil rule has been that military force proved at Nanking, as on past occasions, to be the only method of checking an attempted control of the Kuomintang by the extreme Left, or communist wing.
But the natural thing for anyone with interests at stake in China is to criticize this revolutionary movement which momentarily threatens all foreign and many native interests. Those who believe that the Chinese are ‘a country of four hundred million children’ will only smile at what is going on over there to-day. Those who still insist on identifying Nationalism with Bolshevism, Sun Yat-sen with Nicolai Lenin, Canton with Moscow, will only rage at it. Those who cling to China as she is, on the ground that China as she might be is not worth the price of revolution, can hardly be expected to discern any good in that revolution. But there are also those who believe that revolution all along the line is not only necessary but inevitable, who believe that unless there were good with the bad the Chinese people would never tolerate their Nationalists, and who are eager to seek out and emphasize that good. It is these who will be willing to consider briefly some of the hopeful elements in the situation.
First of all, most careful students of Chinese politics during the past hundred years will concede that Canton’s experiment has been the most successful attempt at modern government since China opened to the West. Judged by Western standards the Nationalist Government, with its background of barely a decade, has a long way to go. Judged, however, by Manchu despotism and by the anarchy of the last fifteen years in Peking, it stands alone as the best organized authority in the land.
North China since 1917 has been split among warring chieftains. The only law was the word of the militarist who controlled the capital. There was a constitution, but it was not enforced. There was a parliament, but its members were openly for sale. There was a succession of presidents, chief executives, and premiers, but they were mere pawns in the hands of the war lord of the hour. In striking contrast stands the recent record of the Nationalist Government. Since the summer of 1925 it has been run, broadly speaking, according to law and not according to individual caprice. There is no democracy, for the Nationalists realize the folly of a democracy of ignorance. The source of power is the Kuomintang. But membership in the Kuomintang is open to all who are literate, who subscribe to the ‘Three Principles’ of Sun Yat-sen, who secure recommendation from five Party members, and who agree to submit to Party discipline. This intra-Kuomintang democracy elects a Central Executive Committee which in turn appoints all officials of the Nationalist Government.
As well in fact as in theory has the Party of Sun Yat-sen achieved results. Mention has already been made of some of the practical ways in which Nationalist officials have improved the cradle of the revolutionary movement — Kwangtung Province. But in Central China, too, the fundamentals of civil rule, public honesty, and social legislation are being put into sporadic if not universal effect. Countless incidents which never get into press dispatches, but which form part and parcel of everyday life in Wuhan (consolidated municipal area of Wuchang, Hankow, and Hanyang), bear witness that the new day ushered in by the Nationalists is not all murk and gloom. The dikes along the Yangtze River which had been going to pieces for thirty years, threatening starvation to ten million people annually, the Nationalist Government repaired at a cost of $3,000,000 in silver. There is the settlement by negotiation of the British concession problem, whereby a section of land which had been under foreign management for over half a century was finally turned over to Chinese control. There is the redemption by the Minister of Finance of several millions of worthless paper notes circulated under the Wu Pei-fu régime. These and other items which are considered of no news value outside China show how the Nationalist Government is bettering the record of its militarist predecessors.
Deeper yet, and more significant because independent of any political factions, is the psychological effect of this revolutionary campaign on the nation at large. We of the West went through our revolutions one at a time. There was the literary renaissance of the fourteenth century, the religious reformation of the sixteenth, political upheavals in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the industrial revolution ever since. China faces hers all at once. And unofficially, but in a very real sense, the Nationalist Government, representing the political revolution, represents also the other three —intellectual, religious, economic.
Intellectually the Nationalist movement heralds a definite break with the past. The so-called literary revolution, to be sure, led by Dr. Hu Shih and others, was launched independently of the Canton experiment, and many scholars are fearful that the new government will seriously limit freedom of thought. But essentially the movement is a youth movement. Since 1919 Chinese students have taken the lead in a vigorous, if not always reasonable, campaign to awaken the people of China to a sense of their rights, their wrongs, and their power. And the Kuomintang, composed largely of younger men, has always had the enthusiastic support of the student element. Under Northern militarist rule these youths were suppressed, imprisoned, sometimes executed. Under Nationalist rule they are encouraged in every way to organize, to demonstrate, and often, mirabile dictu, to study.
The religious revolution may be said to include also the social revolution, for the oldest and most indigenous of religious practices, ancestor worship, is inextricably bound up with that pillar of Chinese society, the family system. In a formal sense, of course, there exists a widespread revolt against the conservatism and superstition that have become associated in varying degrees with Confucianism, Taoism, and even Buddhism. Sometimes this revolt accepts Christianity as meeting the demands both of religion and of progress. Sometimes it is frankly and militantly antireligious. But there has been much superstition in China, as in Russia, and in so far as the intellectual awakening is bettering this condition it is performing a real service for the future.
On the social side the Nationalist Government gives, as it were, official sanction to tendencies which have long been latent but which have remained sporadic and confused under a conservative régime which was loyal to the old social order. Prominent among these tendencies which the advent of the Nationalists has changed from the exception to the rule is the freeing of the son from paternal and the student from tutorial domination. Formerly it was the father who regulated every act of his son’s life, from choosing his wife to receiving worship of his own ancestral tablet after death, and it was the teacher who so commanded the respect of pupils that they would never walk beside him on the street but always a half pace behind. In breaking with these venerable traditions Nationalist youth have not infrequently carried their ‘emancipation’ to ridiculous extremes, but in the main this movement, like that for raising the social and political status of women, is exerting a very healthy influence on modern Chinese society.
In the economic field China is changing from a country of handworkers, small shops, and trade guilds to a modern nation with machinery, largescale production, and labor unions. Industrialization seems inevitable. The Nationalists recognize this, but are determined that this industrialization shall be for the mutual benefit of employer and employed. In past years factories in China admittedly have not fulfilled this ideal. Some employers have honestly tried to improve the condition of their workers, under circumstances made very difficult by the generally low standard of living in China. But advantage has not infrequently been taken of the large supply of cheap labor in a land where there were no factory laws and no government capable of enforcing them. Here again there were strikes in large cities such as Shanghai and Hankow long before the revolutionary forces captured them for the South. But the Kuomintang had bid definitely for labor support in the Congress of 1924; it organized unions to strike for higher wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions, and the Nationalist Government, as the creature of the Party and dependent on labor for political support, has usually given labor leaders carte blanche to do as they pleased. These strikes have sometimes meant the difference between fifteen and twelve hours a day, between seven and six days a week, between a monthly wage of four dollars and one of eight. And although the destructive elements already mentioned bid fair temporarily to wreck production, thus making any efforts toward better distribution a trifle premature, the fact remains that the Nationalist movement constitutes perhaps the best guaranty available that future Chinese industrial workers will get their due from the start.
Supremely, then, the revolutionary nationalism which has won its way up from Canton is the official spokesman for an awakened China. It is the outward and visible sign of a people’s progress toward nationhood. If the Nationalists seem to be abandoning some good with the bad or to be swallowing some bad with the good, we may at least reflect that they are trying to do in a decade and among four hundred millions what took Europe, with half that population, five centuries of revolution to accomplish.
There remains the international aspect of China’s revolution. The Nationalist Government has demanded complete diplomatic equality with foreign nations — the same that Russia in 1924 had wit enough to extend.
During the campaign to secure this equality the Chinese have often assumed the foreigner in China to have been, in the order named, a bully, a thief, and a tyrant, and have in many instances resorted to a system of organized calumny. Many foreigners, on the other hand, have assumed that all Chinese Nationalists were directly or indirectly in the pay of Moscow, that their demand for equality was inspired from that source, and that they have never had cause to dislike the strangers in their midst. In such an atmosphere of falsehood, fear, and mutual suspicion it is indeed hard to find the facts. But seek them we must, in justice alike to the Chinese and to ourselves.
China’s attitude toward the West might be divided roughly into three periods — the period of contempt, the period of fear, and the modern period where respect, suspicion, and dislike are mingled in varying and baffling degrees.
During the first period the foreigner was regarded as a ‘barbarian,’ and it was this situation that forced Lord McCartney, when he first presented his credentials from the British sovereign to the Manchu emperor in 1792, to present them kneeling on both knees.
The second period — that of the foreign ‘devil’ — came in shortly after China was opened up to Western intercourse. This was the time when the much abused unequal treaties had their origin. White traders wished protection for their persons and their properties. White missionaries desired in addition the safeguarding of their native converts. So, after China had been defeated in war, treaties were drawn up at various times during the middle of the last century guaranteeing to foreigners residing in the country the right of trial in their own courts (extraterritoriality), the exclusive control of certain areas (concessions) on Chinese soil, the right to fix and manage China’s customs receipts, and the right to preach the Gospel. It must be emphasized that these treaties, although obviously ‘unequal,’ were not at the time at all unreasonable. They were indeed the only possible arrangement with a ruler who was only too anxious to isolate the foreign devil and to be rid of all responsibility for him, and whose people felt as yet neither interest nor pride in the matter.
The sequel, therefore, was not surprising. Given their own laws and concentrated in little communities amid an alien civilization, the foreigners proceeded to dig themselves in as comfortably and as permanently as possible. They established at considerable pains their own cumbrous legal mechanism. They built up their leased allotments of waste land into little oases of natural charm, municipal efficiency, and commercial security. At the request of the Chinese emperor they took over management of the Maritime Customs, later adding to this responsibility the control of the Chinese Post Office and of the Salt Inspectorate. These enterprises, it should be remarked, were served by the foreigners with exemplary skill and integrity. The Customs and the Salt Gabelle became the only dependable sources of revenue in the country, while the postal service grew to be as efficient as any in the West.
In addition to these undoubted benefits, the foreign business men in those days brought to the Far East an expansion of trade that could never have developed under the old Chinese system, while there rapidly grew up a large class of compradores and office employees who owed their livelihood and often their prosperity to the foreigner.
Foreign missionaries, on the other hand, brought hospitals, schools, and the Christian message to a land where there was no medical science or sanitation, no modern education, and little sense of spiritual values.
This was all very well while the Chinese people remained sunk in political lethargy. Even the Boxer uprising and the 1911 Revolution failed to bring much reaction against the special rights of foreigners. But with the founding of Sun Yat-sen’s Kuomintang Government in Canton in 1918, and the student movement of 1919, the flames of patriotism kindled from the South began to play searchingly on the whole treaty system. Nationalism is and always has been inclined to be intolerant of anything foreign. The foreign missionary was accused of being too paternalistic, the foreign business man of being patronizing and often openly contemptuous. Certain of the lesser Chinese merchants, always jealous of foreign enterprise, began to feel that they had been robbed of their rightful inheritance. Chinese intellectuals, originally scornful of foreign education and foreign religion, began to condemn schools and churches as part of a cultural penetration designed to denationalize their youth. More recently, Chinese industrial laborers have come to regard foreign as well as Chinese employers as exploiters, while the belief was encouraged that most Western residents were hostile to anything they had not themselves introduced, and that the majority were in China solely for what they could get out of her.
These suspicions and accusations were not entirely groundless. There have been business men in the past, as there are within Shanghai’s barbedwire defenses to-day, who would have agreed with a Britisher crossing the Pacific with me two years ago that the Chinese were ‘animals,’ and acted accordingly. And among the missionaries, despite the presence of very many devoted, capable, and open-minded workers, there were some in the past, as there are in the present, who were intolerant with the intolerance of conscious superiority, who shuddered at modern nationalism as at modern science, and who were apt to rouse in the Chinese either antagonism or contempt.
Since 1925 the antiforeign sentiment has been crystallized by that surest of revolutionary catalytics — martyrdom. We Americans who in our youth were taught to associate the ‘Boston massacre’ with the Declaration of Independence will understand the significance of such episodes in moulding the cult of patriotism. Nationalist China has had several of these ‘incidents’ and already possesses a formidable list of revolutionary martyrs. After the firing into a Shanghai mob by foreignofficered police on May 30, 1925, there were a half dozen of them. When a fire hose failed to check a Hankow riot on the following June 11, foreign forces used their guns and several more were added to the roll. The shooting by British and French sailors from Shameen into Canton on June 23 of the same year resulted in fifty more.
It must be emphasized that the only possible charges against the foreigners in connection with these shootings are that either they did not take proper preventive measures or they fired too hastily. There may have been unnecessarily prolonged shooting, as at Shameen, but there was no deliberately planned slaughter.
But the point to be grasped in all its implications, if we are to understand the Chinese psychology, is that Chinese have been killed on Chinese soil, or soil originally Chinese, by foreign forces engaged in defending interests acquired by treaties which are now regarded as a national indignity. The fact that some of those shot in the three incidents mentioned were unarmed and defenseless is a consideration which has not served to mitigate the indictment of Chinese opinion, and one which Kuomintang agitators have seized on with notable success in order to unite the masses in a common protest.
The so-called ‘unequal treaties’ which seventy-odd years ago gave to foreigners the privileged status referred to above are a much exploited factor in the Nationalist campaign. There are Chinese who will unblushingly attribute all of China’s ills to these international agreements. There are foreigners who will assert with marked emphasis and some warmth that the treaties have nothing to do with the case. It hardly need be suggested that the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. There is plenty that is wrong with China for which no foreign treaty can be held responsible. But it is also true that times have changed since the mid-nineteenth century, and that permeating the whole Chinese psychology, giving point to every accusation against the foreigner, there is now a deeprooted resentment that the struggling nation should not be master in its own domain. It is a fact that the treaties play an important part in determining Chinese opinion, and neither the fact nor the opinion is likely to change merely because we choose to ignore it.
The situation among the masses is this. Almost every Chinese has been told that these treaties were forcibly imposed on China for the benefit of foreign Powers. And for the vast majority, too ignorant to understand the complications involved, who know only that they and their country have ’eaten bitterness’ for the past fifteen years or more, it is sufficient to be told that this miserable national condition is a direct result of the unequal treaties. Absurd as it may seem, there is just enough truth in this position to justify it in the eyes of an unscrupulous minority whose chief interest lies in rousing China’s dumb millions to political consciousness.
Such is the basis of the popular support given to the anti-imperialist movement. Every nation having unequal treaty relations with China — this still includes America — is regarded as imperialistic. ‘Down with Imperialism’ and ‘Down with the Foreigners’ are slogans peculiarly fitted to express the negatives of patriotism to unlearned masses who find this the easiest way to express their pent-up feelings. These phrases just suit their emotional state, while Chinese radicals and Russian advisers, eager to produce a classconscious union of farmers and laborers, have in them a rallying cry both simple and appealing.
Turning from the ignorant masses to the sober opinion of educated Nationalist officialdom, we find an equally unequivocal position. Eugene Chen refers to the treaties as a ‘system of invisible conquest in the form of international control.’ ‘Chinese nationalism,’ he says, ‘demands back the independence of China. Our terms are cancellation of the unequal treaties on which the régime of foreign imperialism in China is based.’ Chiang Kai-shek states the case with soldierly directness: ‘ We shall have equality, and any treaties which do not give us that equality with other nations of the world shall cease to exist as far as we are concerned.’
Through the clash of rival interests in China to-day it is indeed difficult to discern any fundamental truth. But beneath the catchwords of ‘communism’ on the one hand and ‘imperialism’ on the other the immediate tendencies of the conflicting forces are fairly apparent. British, Americans, and Japanese, with property interests at stake, think in terms of what they possess and want to hold. Russia, whose abandonment of her treaty rights in China has constituted one of her chief claims to Nationalist good will, thinks in terms of what she has not and wants to obtain. The former labor under the psychological disadvantage of appearing to defend a relic of the old régime, while the latter, with everything to gain and nothing to lose, has the psychological advantage of appearing to support the new.
This distinction is a most important one. Both foreign groups are working for their own interests. But whereas Russia is doing it through the medium of the Nationalist movement, England, America, and Japan appear to have been doing it through the medium of that very treaty system which the Nationalist Government is so determined to alter. Viewed in this light, it is not difficult to understand either the success of the Russians or the measurable failure of the Powers. For, despite conciliatory gestures of recent months on the part of the latter, the root of the trouble remains. And, until a mutually satisfactory agreement is reached on the whole treaty question, foreign enterprise in China will remain at best a stalemate.
There are those who wish to see foreign business and foreign missions reinstated by force of arms. Even granting such a policy to be possible, it would be possible only in centres within range of foreign guns — namely, the coastal cities and those along the Yangtze Valley. And this would mark only the first step. Reinstatement proper depends not only on the foreigner but also on the Chinese. Strikes and boycotts have proved effective in the past — as Japan and Britain have learned to their cost — and labor unions could and probably would so obstruct the process of trade as to make persistence under such conditions more costly than withdrawal.
There are those who want intervention in order to save China from the Bolsheviki. To persons who mean by this the saving of China for British or American business it might be suggested that a possible method for competing with Bolshevist enterprise would be to adopt the policy of enlightened self-interest which the Bolsheviki themselves have found so successful.
To those who mean the saving of China for the Chinese it might be pointed out that the millions who swarm within China’s house at present are in no mood to be set in order by the West. Any attempt at the exercise of an international police power, however benevolent, might well produce or strengthen Bolshevism in China, as it did nearly a decade ago in Russia, more surely than any other means. If the Chinese are to kill the Bolshevist ogre, they will probably have to do most of the killing themselves.
The end of the Peking régime looms nearer, and with it the end of the old treaty system. Transition there certainly will be — a transition attended by extensive loss to foreigners and infinitely more to those Chinese of all classes who have long depended on the stability of foreign institutions. Many foreign concerns will have to pull themselves up by the roots and start afresh. But although the new order carried up from the South may hold in store much temporary misery and loss for Chinese and foreigner alike, the facts are that it has already arrived, that nothing now can permanently check its development, and that in its sensitiveness to the spirit of foreign diplomacy, as in its inward and fundamental vitality, it is something quite different from any Chinese régime we have ever known before. To realize these facts, in all their implications, is the beginning of wisdom in dealing with China to-day.