China: And Yet Again


WHEN, shortly after the inauguration of the nominally Republican Government at Peking and the abdication of the Manchu dynasty, 1 had the honor of lecturing on the Far Eastern question at various centres of learning in America, I found myself at a loss to account for the optimism generally prevalent in the United States with regard to the future of China. A book which I wrote at that time, in which I summarized the actual position in 1912, and from it predicted the chaos which has since prevailed, was generally received with polite incredulity. Both by my audiences and by the press it was borne in upon me very clearly that mine was a voice crying in the wilderness of unbelief. My views were regarded as “reactionary,’ those of an incorrigible monarchist, incapable of appreciating the regenerating virtue of Young China’s enthusiasm for republicanism and democratic institutions. It was natural enough that public opinion in the States should be disposed to sympathize with the aspirations of the Chinese intellectuals who proclaimed their fervent belief in American ideals and their professed determination to apply them for the benefit of their country. Misled by their eloquent appeals, the imagination of the American people saw China, with the eye of faith, as a great nation of philosophers and scholars, like Wu Ting-fang and Wellington Koo, heading straight for the Promised Land of peaceful prosperity. Last, but not least, the path to an unbiased judgment of the Far Eastern question was darkened for many by the shadow of the AngloJapanese Alliance.

Then came the Great War — the years that the locusts have eaten. On the course of events in China during those four years it is unnecessary, for our present purposes, to dwell. I would only observe, looking back, that the Allies probably never committed a more shortsighted error than when they decided to bribe China (there is no other word) to declare war upon the Central Powers, and thus enabled her, without having to have a ship or a soldier, to deprive Germans and Austrians not only of their extraterritorial privileges but of a considerable amount of capital and valuable property. Having regard to the realities of the situation in China and to the wider interests of humanity, it was a blunder which the civilized nations were bound to regret before long, if only because it precluded for many a day all possibility of that united international action whereby alone the Chinese nation can be saved from the dangers of disintegration which threaten it. But in 1917, when for purely financial ends China was induced to declare herself a belligerent, public opinion in America and England was already feeling the influence of the sentimental enthusiasms associated with the name of President Wilson, which finally played so decisive a part at the Washington Conference.

Prior to the opening of that Conference— that is to say, in November 1921 — the editor of the Atlantic, greatly daring, had accepted for publication an outspoken article in which I endeavored to define the dominant factors of the Chinese problem, as it then stood, and to suggest a basis of international remedial action whereby it might be solved to the mutual advantage of the Powers concerned and of the sorely harassed Chinese people. That seed fell also upon stony ground. Its immediate and only noticeable result was to bring down upon the editor criticism and rebukes for allowing the Atlantic to be used as a medium for the dissemination of skeptical opinions so heterodox and depressing. So the voice in the wilderness was stilled.

Much water and a great deal of innocent blood have flowed beneath the bridges of China during the five years which have elapsed since the representatives of nine nations affixed their signatures to the Washington Agreements. And now once more, with the patient editor’s permission, I propose to analyze the present critical position of affairs and to draw attention to the dangers which menace China more imminently than ever, as the result of idealism in high places and of the continued failure of the American and British Governments to face them fairly and squarely.


What’s done is done. No good purpose will be served by crying over spilt milk or by demonstrating how easily intelligent anticipation and concerted action at Canton two years ago might have nipped in the bud the evil growth of Bolshevism àl’orientale which now threatens to lay waste the land. Let me only say that, as the result of the unchecked chaos of native misrule and of the new disruptive elements that have been introduced by the emissaries of Moscow, the problem of China is a much more serious matter to-day than it was five years ago.

When writing on the subject in 1921, I expressed the opinion that unless steps were speedily taken, under an international agreement, for the restoration of law and order by concerted action of the Powers there could be no possible prospect of any permanent settlement of the Far Eastern question; furthermore, that only by active participation in such an agreement could America ever hope to carry out her benevolent ideas of friendly coöperation for China’s benefit; and finally that, ‘failing active American participation, the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance appears to offer the only alternative solution of the problem.’ At that time there was every reason to believe that the Japanese Government was prepared to welcome an AmericanAnglo-Japanese understanding having as its avowed object the restoration of financial and administrative order in China, with all due regard to her sovereign rights; it was manifestly futile, then as now, to talk of restoring the unfettered authority of the Chinese Government until financial and administrative measures had been taken to make an effective government possible. For these and other reasons there seemed to be valid grounds for hoping that the Conference might produce results immediately beneficial to the Chinese people, and ultimately to the world at large, if only responsible American opinion were not misled by the specious pleadings of China’s representatives.

It was a big ‘if.’ No special gift of prophecy was needed to predict the policy which those astute diplomats, Mr. Alfred Sze and Mr. Wellington Koo, would adopt at the Conference. I make no apology for quoting the following passage from my article in the Atlantic of November 1921, because, in addition to having anticipated their line of action at the Conference in every particular, it still constitutes an accurate presentment of the Cantonese Government’s extremely effective propaganda abroad.

They will undoubtedly present a glowing picture of the Chinese Republic, successfully progressing toward Utopia by the development of liberal ideas and democratic institutions, all regardless of the fact that these are as remote as the planet Mars from all the realities of the situation in China. They will make eloquent appeal to the sympathies of the civilized world, in the name of Democracy, on behalf of Young China’s chimerical Republic, and of its splendid programme of purely imaginary reforms. . . . They will continue to describe the social activities and academic theories of a few thousand ‘Western-learning’ students and journalists as truly representative of the political convictions and institutions of the Chinese people.

And all the while they will complacently ignore the lamentable and notorious facts of China’s actual position, the utter demoralization and inevitable bankruptcy of the Peking Government, the lawlessness and insatiable greed of the military chieftains, whose rabble armies have devastated the country for the last ten years, and the untold sufferings of the defenseless people, more pitiful to-day than ever they were under the Manchus. . . . They will earnestly invoke the assistance of America and England against Japan, for the restoration of China’s rights in Shantung, and of her unfettered sovereignty over the Northern dependencies; but they will say nothing of the lamentable fact that, since the death of Yuan Shih-k’ai (1916), the several political factions that have struggled for mastery at Peking have vied with each other in mortgaging to Japan, in return for subsidies and loans, many rights, privileges, and concessions calculated to jeopardize their country’s political independence.

The real Far Eastern question, as it stood when the Washington Conference was convened, was whether, by virtue of a new policy of self-denying cooperation, it might be possible for the Powers to arrest the process of disintegration wrought in China by various disruptive influences, of which (though the fact is not generally admitted) the most formidable is the influence of ‘Western learning.’ The Far Eastern question, as it came to be discussed by the Powers in Conference, contained little or no reference to any unpleasant topics such as processes of disintegration. Thanks to the exigencies of domestic politics in the United States, and to the skill with which the Chinese delegates availed themselves of these, and of the jealousies and rivalries of the commercial Powers, the immediate aim and object of the Conference (to quote Senator Lodge) was ‘to render such aid to China as may help her to secure real independence.’ The ninePower treaties and four-Power agreements in which the resolutions of the Conference were finally recorded had little or no bearing upon the facts of the case. They reflected, in the first place, the determination of President Harding and his advisers to conciliate an important element of public opinion by expiating Mr. Wilson’s failure at Versailles and vindicating American idealism in world politics. Secondly, they bore unmistakable testimony to the fact that Great Britain, having decided to abandon the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, was prepared to follow the American lead in China and to adopt a policy of ‘patience and conciliation,’ even though it might involve the sacrifice of important national interests. In the words of Colonel Harvey, late Ambassador at the Court of St. James, it was henceforth to be ‘a cardinal principle of British policy, under the avowed headship of the King, to do nothing which might impair the friendliness of, or give offense to, the United States.’

Such success as the Conference achieved was chiefly due, as Senator Lodge observed, to the fact that its scope was strictly limited to matters of immediate concern to the United States. The avowed purpose of the Administration was to revitalize the principle of the Open Door and equal opportunity in China, and, with that end in view, to substitute for the AngloJapanese Alliance a new alignment of the Powers in which American leadership would be tacitly admitted.

As the policy expounded by Secretary Hughes began to take definite outlines, those who looked beyond the benevolent aspirations of the proposed agreements to the probable results of the new alignment perceived that, owing to the increasing disorganization of China, the principles upon which stress was laid were rapidly ceasing to have any real significance. Furthermore, it became manifest to close watchers of the political skies that beneath the attempt to revitalize these dry bones there lay a very definite, though unexpressed, intention to establish an Anglo-Saxon moral guardianship over China and at the same time to limit Japanese expansion on the Asiatic mainland. As the result of the atmosphere thus created, and of the attitude adopted by the Chinese delegates, the position in which Japan found herself at the Conference was plainly that of a defendant at the bar of international opinion. Baron Shidehara and the other Japanese delegates, accepting the situation, cheerfully subscribed yet once again to the principle of the Open Door. Also they tactfully refrained from any reference to that aspect of the doctrine of equal opportunity which arises out of the White Races’ Asiatic Exclusion Acts. Smiling, as is their wont, they went their ways, to ponder at leisure over Mr. Harding’s valedictory assurance that ‘no seeds of conflict had been sown at the Conference, the very atmosphere of which was such as to drive national selfishness into retreat.’

But the watchers of the skies aforesaid, looking ahead, saw clearly that, with the close of the Conference, the Far Eastern problem had entered upon a new phase, of which the finally dominant factor must be Russia. Upon the determination of that undiscussed and unknown factor Japan’s future policy must eventually depend. Until such time as, out of the chaos of Bolshevism, a government shall emerge in Russia with which Japan can safely deal, her attitude must perforce be, as it was at the beginning of the century, one of watchful waiting, combined with vigilant protection of the special position and economic interests in Manchuria which are of vital importance to her national security. Inasmuch as the Conference had done nothing to stem the tide of anarchy in China, and as, on the contrary, by proclaiming its belief in the policy of noninterference, it had ensured an acceleration of the process of disintegration, there was nothing for Japan to do (confronted with the possibility of isolation as the result of the new alignment of the Powers) but lie low and bide her time. The unconcealed purpose of China’s diplomats and Westernized students to incite public opinion in America against Japan produced a widespread and unmistakable effect in evangelical and educational circles; but the tactful quiescence of Dai-Nippon’s farseeing statesmen cut the ground from under the Chinese attempt to create strained relations. These were avoided; but American policy, at and after the Conference, became centred in the endeavor to win the good will of China, and a position of diplomatic advantage at Peking, by supporting the opinions and ambitions of the ultramodern school of Chinese intellectuals and especially those who, having been trained to the profession of American democratic ideas in American universities, might therefore be expected to promote American interests.

China’s representatives left the Conference convinced, by all that they had seen and heard, that they might now proceed with impunity to abolish the ‘unequal treaties’ and the foreigner’s extraterritorial rights, inasmuch as none of the Powers concerned were likely henceforth to invoke the argument of force for their protection. They too went their ways smiling, fully prepared to take advantage of that post-war development of the public conscience in England and America which has made it increasingly sensitive, humane, and sympathetic toward the rights of weaker nations. They themselves had helped to sow the good seed which had come to fruition in the ascendancy of a new democratic theory, prepared to credit uncivilized, or politically unconscious, nations with the qualities requisite for the successful working of democratic institutions. (To the influence of this strange theory the present parlous condition of China is very largely due.)


It is not necessary, for the purposes of this article, to recapitulate the course of events which, since the close of the Conference, have made civil war the only profitable profession in China, inspired her students and politicians with a spirit of unreasoning hostility to the foreigner, and finally led the Cantonese ‘National’ Party, struggling for supremacy over its Northern rivals, to accept the doctrines and dollars of Bolshevism. The political record of these five years has been ably and concisely summarized in a work quite recently published by the American Geographical Society — namely, Mr. Walter H. Mallory’s inquiry into the causes and results of chronic famine conditions in China. The following passage from this work is well worth quoting, particularly because of the vital truth contained in its concluding sentence: —

The central authority has grown weaker and weaker until at present its mandates are practically without effect. In the meantime the military leaders in the various provinces, realizing their power and subject to no restraining influence, have worked each for himself, rising and falling like the tide. Temporary combinations are effected for the purpose of eliminating anyone who appears to be gaining the ascendancy; but when this is accomplished the allies split up to fight among themselves, until the time is ripe for another effort at military consolidation.

All men are equal; all claim the same privilege of preying on their fellows. The idea of responsibility to the State, in the absence of a monarch, is not yet envisaged; it hardly enters at all into the consideration of modern Chinese leaders, for the reason that the old spirit of family enrichment at the expense of other families is the paramount motive.

To this lucid exposition of the situation may be added the following brief quotation from a recent British Blue Book, wherein His Majesty’s Consul at Foochow describes the appalling conditions to which, in the absence of efficient government, the common people have been reduced: —

The Government of Foochow has for the past two years been bandied about from one set of adventurers to another. It has never for a moment enjoyed the stability necessary for carrying out reformatory measures. It has subsisted by levying arbitrary loans, by seizing revenues pledged to the creditors of the Chinese Republic, by enforcing the cultivation of, and collecting taxes on, opium . . . and by laying all the taxes it can on whatever appears capable of yielding a tax. . . .

The real abuses under which China labors are nepotism and corruption.

If we contrast these dispassionate statements of the true condition of affairs in China (which might be multiplied indefinitely) with the pious aspirations and abstract moralities recorded in the Washington Agreements, it must, I think, be admitted that, by common consent, the Conference ignored the real ‘crux’ of the Far Eastern problem. In its zeal for ‘adventures in liberal action’ it overlooked the undeniable fact that the widespread and increasing rapacity of the official class is the chief cause of China’s national weakness and an insuperable obstacle to the creation of that ‘stable and effective government’ for which the Conference was to provide ‘the fullest and most unembarrassed opportunity.’ The Agreements solemnly recorded China’s ’intention and capacity to protect the lives and property of foreigners in China,’ her ‘earnest desire to bring her judicial system into accord with that of Western nations,’ and other stereotyped sterilities, but the proceedings of the Conference entirely ignored the lamentable and all-important truth that the new class of semi-Westernized officials which has come to the front since the Revolution of 1911 has not produced any public-spirited and efficient administrators, or even a single leader, in whom the nation can trust. Since then, thanks to the skillful propaganda of a number of able Chinese diplomats and publicists, and to the powerful influence of religious and educational societies, public opinion throughout America, and to a great extent in England, has been deluded into the belief that the political activities of the Cantonese faction represent a real awakening of national consciousness and genuine patriotic ideals. It is a delusion to which missionaries and educationists are vocationally liable, if only because acceptance of Young China’s promises and professions implies the belief that Western education can implant in the Oriental mind the Anglo-Saxon’s standards of conduct and religious beliefs. Nevertheless, the incontestable truth remains that the acquisition of foreign university degrees has never yet modified in any perceptible way the traditional methods and paramount motives of Chinese officials.

During the five years which have elapsed since the Conference, America’s policy has been to gain the confidence and friendship of the Chinese by ‘liberality in policy and generosity in action.’ England, following this lead, has persisted, at no small cost to British interests, in her attitude of ‘patience and conciliation.’ In both cases the assumption underlying the policy adopted is that out of the present chaos a stable and effective government will in time emerge, suited to the character and needs of the nation. It is an assumption that can only be maintained by turning a blind eye to all the unpleasant facts of a situation which has steadily gone from bad to worse since the leaders of the Cantonese Party made the amazing discovery that the foreigner is prepared to surrender his treaty rights and valuable vested interests to mob violence and organized intimidation. It is an assumption which errs, first from well-meaning but misguided sentimentalism, and secondly from failure to appreciate the social, political, and economic conditions reflected in the soul of the Chinese people.

How can it profit us, or the Chinese, to talk of their conscious nationalism and patriotic ideals in the face of their administrative and legislative record, North and South, for the past ten years? Can anyone deny that the only law which has been recognized in China since the Revolution of 1911 is the law of armed force, or that the only thing which matters in Chinese politics, from Mukden to Canton, is money?


What, then, of the future? The restoration of peace and prosperity in China, and her continued existence as an undivided and independent nation, depend first and foremost upon a clearer perception of the essential facts of the situation and the adoption of a firmer policy in America and Great Britain. Next, if the pernicious purposes of Bolshevism are to be checked, if some sort of order is to be reëstablished throughout the land, it is even more essential to-day than it was in 1921 for America, England, and Japan to come together and, uniting in a common purpose of good will toward China, support the law-abiding and welldisposed elements in the country in gradually producing the authoritative government which it needs. Continuance in a policy of facile optimism, noninterference, and graceful concessions is impossible, unless we are prepared completely to evacuate China as a field for our trade, industrial enterprise, and other activities, to fold up our tents like the Arab and leave it to the Japanese to dispute possession of the field hereafter with the Muscovite. Continuance in a policy which is prepared to surrender wholesale our treaty rights, and particularly extraterritoriality, must of necessity involve evacuation. As a distinguished American writer succinctly puts it, ‘Extraterritoriality is a necessity of the case if foreigners are to remain in the country. ’

The question of extraterritoriality is, like many others in this world of hard facts, not to be solved by virtue of abstract moral principles. China’s moral right to object to the privileges thereunder enjoyed by foreigners is as incontestable as her moral right to object to the presence of foreigners on her shores, or her right to claim admission for her surplus millions into the United States and Canada on grounds of ‘racial equality.’ But none of these rights is admissible in practice, for the simple reason that when we come down to realities ‘racial equality’ is a snare and a delusion. Twenty years ago England and America pledged themselves by treaty to relinquish their extraterritorial privileges ‘when satisfied that the state of the Chinese laws and their administration justify them in so doing.’ If it was then impossible for Europeans to submit their persons and property to Chinese conceptions of law and justice, how much less can they do so to-day, when the last remnants of responsible government have disappeared in the North and Bolshevism is spreading like a plague in the South?

One of the most remarkable features of the present situation is that public opinion in the United States, which has set so good an example to the world by steadfastly refusing to have any dealings with Bolshevism, now extends its sympathy and moral support to the Cantonese faction in China, which is largely controlled and financed by the Communists of Moscow and openly identified with Bolshevist propaganda. Encouraged by American sympathy and by the peace-at-any-price attitude of the British Government (as manifested in the Hankow Concession agreement), this Cantonese wing of the Kuomintang Party now makes no secret of its intention to go much further than the abolition of the foreigner’s extraterritorial rights. Following Moscow’s example and advice, it proposes not only to repudiate forthwith all existing obligations and agreements, but to clear the country of all foreigners, prohibit foreign shipping in Chinese waters, and ‘nationalize’ all foreign factories, banks, and private property. An outline of the party’s programme (rapidly growing by what it feeds on) is set forth in resolutions drafted for the People’s Conference, lately published in a work entitled China and the Nations, by Wong Ching-wai, the chairman of the Kuomintang Executive Committee.

If, pursuing paths of peace and political idealism, America and Great Britain are prepared to abandon their treaty rights in China and the fruits of two centuries of legitimate commercial enterprise, it should at least be understood that the hostility which they are endeavoring thus to placate is far more Russian than Chinese in origin. The group of political adventurers which calls itself the Cantonese Nationalist Party has risen to unexpected heights of power by the aid of Bolshevist subsidies and Bolshevist propaganda, skillfully addressed to the natural chauvinism and predatory instincts of the lowest classes. But there is nothing in its leadership, record, or political methods to justify a serious belief in its capacity either to win the support of the better elements in the nation or to establish an effective government acceptable to the masses. If our treaty rights, and with them our lawful place in the sun of the Far East, are to be surrendered to their artificially created agitation, let there be no mistake: Soviet Russia, and not the unhappy Chinese people, will gain by our selfdenying forbearance. The future of China will still lie on the knees of the gods, and her destinies will eventually be determined, in all human probability, by the course of events on her Northern borders. But this much may safely be predicted, that the cause of her national independence, and even of her continued existence as an undivided State, will not be promoted, but rather jeopardized, by the elimination of the commercial enterprise and political influence of the Englishspeaking nations. Are we really prepared to face the prospect of that elimination for the sake of a forlorn hope in political idealism?