NOTHING could be more typical of our age than the way in which the name of a hard-headed, realistic man of enterprise like Marco Polo has become a symbol of pure romance. We think of Columbus, on the other hand, as both a dreamer and a doer. He is the patron saint of the American tradition, from which came Edison and Ford and Alexander Graham Bell. They were all visionaries, but their visions issued in concrete realities. Columbus, who might have been no more than a crackbrained theorist, did actually cross the Atlantic; and in spite of the fact that what he was really looking for was China, so that it was all a colossal mistake, and in spite of the fact that he died in poverty, his was the first American success story.
As for Marco Polo, he turned his back on the West, the sea, and the future. He did travel by ship from China to India, but that we have almost forgotten. What we remember is that he traveled by caravan through Persia and Central Asia into the domains of the Great Khan. He reached China, which Columbus, a couple of centuries later, failed to do. Yet the story of Marco Polo is, for us, nothing more than a fable; good source material for plays and romances and saccharine Donn Byrne whimsicalities, but not important in practical history. Even the China in which Marco Polo’s father and uncle were successful traders, and in which Marco himself was a thoroughly practical social and financial success for about seventeen years as an official and administrator under the Mongol conquerors, is not, for us, the real China.
Marco Polo has become a cliché of the kind of journalism which lays it on thick. Any tourist who travels beyond the Treaty Ports and railways — the ‘ hard facts ’ — of the modern China is ‘treading in the footsteps of Marco Polo.’ This means that he is doing something that is glamorous, but has nothing to do with the office, however much it may appeal to the women’s clubs.
Yet the Marco Polo of the thirteenth century was no Halliburton. The Venetians of the thirteenth century were the Yankees of Europe. Their romance was business romance, like that of the Standard Oil and the British American Tobacco Company in creating markets in China. Their successful men were adventurers, as Herbert Hoover was an adventurer when he mined coal in China and gold in Australia; but we do not think of the romance of Herbert Hoover as romance of the imaginative, bookish kind. It is only another incident in that prosaic thing, ‘the romance of modern business.’
Somewhere between the original Marco Polo — ‘Venice Boy Makes Good in Orient’ — and Marco IlMilione, the teller of tall tales, who would have been a ‘wow’ at the Explorers Club, there is a great gulf fixed. Nor is the gulf, strange to say, at all hard to find. The Turks made it. When the Turks came down and took Constantinople in 1453 they cut Europe off from the overland trade to India, Central Asia, and the Far East. The caravans which had served the Venetians as Canadian Pacific, Dollar, and Nippon Yusen Kaisha liners, ever since the Crusades, were laid off. Europe floundered for forty years until Columbus led the way across the Atlantic, and the Portuguese, rounding Africa, opened up India and the remoter East by way of the sea.
The East with which the West began to trade by sea was quite different from the East of caravan trade. Marco Polo moved gradually and arduously from land to land and people to people. Languages, customs, religions, were things that he had time to note as the camels lurched from hither Asia to Central Asia and on into ultimate Asia. He rode hawking with the men of many nations, knew the women of many cities, heard all the commerce and affairs of Asia discussed around the camp fire or in the bazaar, was brought before viziers and men of state. By the time he reached China, he was adjusted to China.
When, on the other hand, the Portuguese, the Spaniards, and after them the Dutch and British burst out of the sea to anchor off the ports of Asia, they broke in on a world which they startled by their strange appearance, and which they themselves found alien and incomprehensible. The sundering sea lay between East and West. Adjustment was harsh and abrupt. Whether the strangers gave goods for goods, or whether they simply fought and took, there was no mutual comprehension. A wholly new tradition was created. Marco Polo and the men of his time — William of Rubruck, Pian de Carpine, many others whose names are known and a host who are forgotten — were participants in the affairs of Asia. The men of the seaways, Portuguese and Spaniards, Dutch and British and finally Americans, were anything but participants. They were intruders; and the chief American contributions to the history of intrusion in Asia have been Commodore Perry’s forcing of Japan in 1854 and the Open Door Policy in China.
Marco Polo, that figure of romance, had no theories about Asia. He had to go by his own shrewd insight into the realities of the Eastern world in which by merit and hard work he rose to be a trusted servant of Kublai Khan. The British of John Company, on the other hand, and such later potent British agents in the Western history of China as ‘Chinese’ Gordon and Sir Robert Hart, and such Americans as Anson Burlingame, who proclaimed in 1868 the hunger of China for Western civilization, and John Hay, who labored with the British to set up the Open Door formula, were not figures of romance. They were hard-headed, practical men, and servants, they said, of civilization. It is true that their knowledge of the facts was more onesided than that of the old plodding caravan travelers, but they had plenty of theories. Plenty of theories, and plenty of confidence. They backed their theories to override the situation as they found it, and the result of this process is the Far East of to-day, in which the appalling contradictions between fact and theory have brought the Vest up short, more puzzled and less confident than it has been for a hundred years.
Perhaps the most pregnant of all the theories in the catalogue has been the Theory of the Chineseness of China. This may seem a paradox; but the fact is that the China of Chinese history and culture, the China of the Chinese people, and the China which we call the Chinese Republic are not at all the same thing. Nor can we understand the difference without going back to the standards of Marco Polo.
When Marco Polo reached China, he found it under the rule of the Mongols. When the Western sea adventurers reached China, they found it first under the rule of the Ming dynasty, which was of Chinese origin. In 1644 they saw it come under the rule of the Ch’ing or Manchu dynasty; but, because they were in direct contact primarily with the Chinese, they continued to think of the country as the Chinese Empire. Marco Polo had been in contact directly with the rulers of China, and only indirectly with the Chinese. The Westerners of the age of sea power were in contact all the time with the Chinese; their relation to the rulers of China was only secondary.
Marco Polo, emerging from the vast hinterland, and learning to understand it in the long, slow journey before at last he reached the coast, was more closely in touch with the forces of history than were the seafarers who, touching first at the coast, gazed inward in perplexity at the incomprehensible hinterland and finally decided that the whole business was medæval, if not primitive, and ought to be taken in hand. Yet the phenomenon which Marco Polo saw, and of which he was a part, was quite normal. For twenty centuries or so China has been subject to barbarian conquests from the north. These conquests have alternated with periods of Chinese recovery; but the barbarians, in their conquests, have always penetrated deep into China, while the Chinese, in their periods of recovery, have rarely penetrated far beyond the fringe of the territory north of the Great Wall. Thus barbarian conquest has been the positive pole, and Chinese recovery only the negative pole, of the forces which have shaped the character of China for century after century.
The fact of these conquests is generally known, but their importance is always neglected. This is quite natural. For one thing, we speak always of the Wei, the T’ang, the Liao, the Chin, the Yuan, or the Ch’ing dynasties. Inevitably, in using the Chinese names, we think of them as Chinese. We forget that the Wei dynasty was founded by Toba Tatars. We skip lightly over the share of the Turks in founding the T’ang dynasty. We underrate the un-Chineseness of the Manchurian tribes who founded the Liao and Chin dynasties. We even speak of China as Cathay, a thing which the Chinese would never do, because the name is derived from the Khitan tribe, the barbarians who founded the Liao dynasty. We discount the Mongolness of the Mongols and the Manchuness of the Manchus who ruled under the Yuan and Ch’ing dynasties. How many people think of Kublai Khan, K’ang Hsi, and Ch’ien Lung as ‘Chinese’ Emperors? How many people realize that not one of these rulers would have called himself a Chinese, any more than Lord Curzon, when Viceroy of India, in spite of his profound interest in the culture of India, would have called himself a Brahmin?
The importance of these foreigners from beyond the Great Wall is that they ruled large parts of China, and sometimes the whole of it, for some 850 out of the last 1500 years. Nor have all the foreign conquerors been listed here. Other minor conquests bring the tale of foreign aggression and control to an even higher figure.
We increase the illusion of the Chineseness of China by uncritical acceptance of the dogma that the Chinese absorb all their conquerors. We repeat the formula that ‘ China is a sea which salts all the streams that flow into it,’ and let it go at that. We forget that it is also true that a salt-water tide which flows far enough inland will be turned to fresh water by the streams discharging into it. This counter-formula, incidentally, might be of use in estimating the significance of Westernization and modernization in China at the present day, as a kind of tidewater phenomenon.
We should remember also that, while all the barbarians who have ever come down into China have suffered a sea change, all Chinese who have pressed beyond the Great Wall have suffered a comparable change. The barbarian, in barbarian territory, has absorbed or modified the Chinese as decisively as the Chinese has absorbed the barbarian within China. Where this is not true, as in modern Manchuria, it is because of the intervention of alien factors, brought by foreigners from over the sea. In the past, many of the Chinese in Manchuria were willing to join the Manchus in the conquest of China. Even in the modern period of suddenly altered values, the Chinese who moves into Manchuria tends to modify his Chinese characteristics in proportion as he becomes ‘Manchurian.’ In other regions, not yet affected by railroads and the new economic impact of the West, the old rule still holds. The Mongols who invaded China were absorbed; the Mongols who remained in Mongolia are Mongol to this day.
In order to understand this type of history, we have to remember that it functioned in a definite rhythm for about two thousand years. It established precedents. All the populations affected by it grew to understand it instinctively, in the same way that the population of the Rhine Valley ‘feels in its bones’ the turn of every tide between France and Germany, in the same way that the peoples of the Balkans respond instinctively to alternating pressures from East and West.
No such precedents guided the reaction of Chinese and Westerners to each other when they came into contact along the seacoast. China had never been controlled from the sea. Hard knocks had to be given and taken before the relative strengths of opposing values could be appreciated. The West, in establishing its domination, had to determine not only the fact of domination but the form in which it was to be exercised. Nor could action and reaction follow the same pattern as before, because a superiority of power, working from the sea, is organically different from an invasion by land. The Westerners, because they did not occupy China, escaped the counter-cycle of absorption.
In controlling China from the sea, the foreigners overthrew the tradition of the control of China from north of the Great Wall. They went even further. Because they were in no position to appreciate the concept of China as the exploited part of empires founded north of the Great Wall, — such empires as Marco Polo had seen in working order, — they quite ingenuously adopted a view of the frontier regions beyond the Great Wall as part of the Empire of China. Even in the nineteenth century, we find it an all but universal practice to speak of the Chinese Empire, when what existed in fact was a Manchu Empire, of which China formed only one part. Such territories as Tibet, Chinese Turkistan, and Mongolia were also parts of the Manchu Empire, but they were organically separate from China. They did not belong to China any more than Canada belongs to Australia. In fact, apart from proximity, there is less connection between China, say, and Mongolia than there is between Australia and Canada, because Australians and Canadians have much in common, while Chinese and Mongols are divided from each other by race, language, religion, and by political, social, and cultural tradition.
Manchuria, because the Manchus themselves formed the link with China, was more closely connected. As the Manchus within China came under Chinese influence, they themselves tended to reflect this influence back into Manchuria. When, however, it is stated that a territory like Mongolia has been Chinese ‘for hundreds of years,’it is proper to inquire into the nature of the connection. It will be found that the relation between Mongolia and China is primarily one created under non-Chinese dynasties, when the Mongols were either conquerors of China or allies of the conquerors of China, as they were under the Manchu dynasty. It will also be found that purely Chinese control, as under the Ming dynasty or the present Chinese Republic, has never affected anything but the fringes of Mongolia, and that the Mongols have always been as distinct from Chinese as Germans are from Frenchmen. The same thing is true, in somewhat different degrees, of such territories as Chinese Turkistan and Tibet.
Since the impact of the West on China was not one of invasion, the form of control developed in the nineteenth century was bound to be different from that exercised by such historical invaders as Mongols or Manchus. The Open Door policy was an inevitable derivative of the maritime domination of China; and as China stands between the Great Wall territories and the sea, it was inevitable that Manchuria, Mongolia, Chinese Turkistan, and Tibet — the whole vast semilune of the so-called outer dominions, which together are greater than China — should be subordinated to China. No Open Door policy can do anything with these territories but tell them to stay put and stay quiet until foreign influence can reach them through China, from the sea. They must be forced to deny their history and surrender their national and racial identities. ’Why,’I have often been asked by Mongols, ‘did n’t President Wilson ever do anything about Mongolia?’ ’Because,’I have always been forced to answer, ‘President Wilson looked across the sea, and saw nothing but China.‘
We speak of the Open Door as if it were an American invention; or, if we have formed the habit of not believing in any intelligent American foreign policy, we speak of it as a BritishAmerican invention. As a matter of fact, it was a policy inherent in the situation. Granted the control of China from the sea, and a division of sea power among Americans, British, Germans, French, and latterly Japanese, in such proportions that it was impossible for one nation to act without reference to the others, it was as nearly inevitable as anything in history that the early tendency toward carving out spheres of influence should break down, and be replaced by an Open Door policy of unlimited trading exploitation, together with a mostfavored-nation theory of equal opportunity, a self-denying ordinance against exclusive territorial occupation, and a general tendency for maritime interests to act in concert against any development of power on land.
A sharp distinction must be drawn between the exploitation of China, largely by indirect control, and the colonial partition of a continent like Africa. The difference is that Africa is open to the sea from every side. It was natural that countries competing in the partition of Africa should enter independently from different points on several coasts. International rivalries in Africa are therefore focused most acutely somewhere near the middle of the continent. China has only one coast, and international rivalries therefore begin immediately at the coast, because control of the points of entry by any one nation restricts the opportunities of all nations. Moreover, all nations which approach China from the sea have an interest in common against any nation which approaches China from the landward side.
Actually, it is not hard to discern that the true underlying inspiration of the Open Door policy has less to do with the Anglo-German rivalry of an earlier period, or the Japanese-American rivalries of the present, than with the major issue of sea power against land power. In this respect some illuminating passages can be found in The Education of Henry Adams. They are all the more illuminating when it is remembered how intimately Adams was associated with John Hay, and how closely he was in touch with the inception and formulation of the Open Door idea. This need not mean that Adams, Hay, and the British and American Governments actually analyzed the problem in the terms in which, with the advantage of the perspective we now have, we can now express it. If we can divine that they felt the pressure of conflicting land power and sea power in such a manner that they felt compelled to attempt an artificial stabilization, it is enough.
This much, I think, is indeed clear. The passage here quoted refers to 1903, when the Russo-Japanese War was incubating; but it is easy to cast back a few years and see how the same ideas must have been operative when the Open Door policy was first enunciated.
For Hay and his pooling policy, inherited from McKinley, the fatalism of Russian inertia meant the failure of American intensity. When Russia rolled over a neighboring people, she absorbed their energies in her own movement of custom and race which neither Tsar nor peasant could convert, or wished to convert, into any Western equivalent. In 1903 Hay saw Russia knocking away the last blocks that held back the launch of this huge mass into the China Sea. The vast force of inertia known as China was to be united with the huge bulk of Russia in a single mass which no amount of new force could henceforward deflect.
The issue is plain, and not the less plain for the fact that Adams, a true Open Door thinker, was unable to distinguish any difference between China and Mongolia and Manchuria. It is even plainer now that we have to read ‘Bolshevik conviction of destiny’ instead of ‘the fatalism of Russian inertia.’ The whole Open Door theory of the future of Asia rested then, as it still rests, on the assumption of an indefinite continuance of the control of China from the sea. The rise of a new continental power in Asia would ‘knock the blocks from under’ the whole thing; and Russia was then the only power with an almost exclusively continental relation to China.
It was therefore impossible to admit, even later, when the Manchu Empire fell in 1911, that Manchuria, Mongolia, and the other outer dominions were not parts of China. It was impossible to admit that historically and geographically they were distinct from China. The theory of the control of China from the sea, under terms of equal opportunity in exploitation by trade, demanded that ‘China’ be defined to the maximum depth inland, and that any intrusion from the landward side into the China thus artificially defined must be resisted in the interests of the maritime powers as a group. The Open Door, as a practical device, was a sea-power coalition in restraint of Russia; and the first nation willing to fight it out in defense of the Open Door was Japan.
The later history of the Open Door, and the difference between the policy as it operated at first and as it became by subsequent legalistic interpretation, can be dated from this point. Japan, in fighting Russia in 1904-1905, was the favorite of what used to be called, so charmingly, ‘the civilized world’; but the civilized world was even more interested in seeing a Russian defeat than a Japanese victory. It came very near getting the permanent stalemate which it would have liked to see, as the best of all possible settlements. Theodore Roosevelt helped to bring about a peace which neither let Russia retain a satisfactory position on the coast nor allowed Japan to get a satisfactory footing on the Asiatic continent.
The implication of a continental position for Japan as an alternative to the successful development of the natural continental position of Russia then became the sore point of the whole Open Door coalition. Japan, alone, was neither wholly a sea power nor primarily a land power. The ambiguous position of Japan, as the doubtful element in what had been a simple case of maritime interests against continental interests, was mainly responsible for the sophisticated, legalistic later manipulation of the Open Door thesis. America, as the most maritime of all the Western powers, with the least commitments to vested interests ashore in China, became more and more the leader in restraining Japan.
It was inevitable that Japanese policy should become increasingly disingenuous. Japan, in the middle, had necessarily to play both ends against each other. It would have been disastrous to let the potential continental position go by default; but it would have been equally disastrous to disavow the maritime coalition before the land position had been made secure. Japanese policy therefore became a scries of efforts to reach the land without letting go of the treaties which bound other nations to treat Japan as primarily a naval power whose interests were identical with theirs.
In 1915, under the Twenty-one Demands, Japan very nearly won a permanent position on the mainland; but most of what had been gained had to be surrendered at the Washington Conference of 1921. Having got halfway out of the sea, Japan was hauled back in again, chiefly by Great Britain and America. The treaties resulting from the Conference embodied a purely naval interpretation of the balance of power in the Far East, designed to prevent any one naval power from exerting undue control in the Asiatic seas. They created a state of artificial balance in the overseas relations of China; but this balance itself rested on the assumption that the ratio between land power and sea power would also remain in permanent equilibrium — that Russia, in other words, was done for.
It is this ignorant assumption which underlies the disasters of the last few years. The spectacular legal aspects of Japan’s ‘quarrel with the world’ since 1931 have quite obscured the real underlying causes. Among other things, the significant incidents of recent Russian history in the East are now overlooked, forgotten, or simply misinterpreted. Yet they are an essential prelude to Japanese policy.
Russia, since 1924, has recognized the independence of Outer Mongolia — a fair parallel to Japanese recognition of Manchurian independence. It is true that Russia admits a nominal Chinese sovereignty in Outer Mongolia, while Japan does not admit Chinese sovereignty in Manchukuo. This, however, is a mere finesse, because Outer Mongolia itself refuses to admit Chinese sovereignty, and Russia supports Outer Mongolia in practice, although deferring to China in theory.
Then again, in the direct military action which settled the dispute between Russia and China over the Chinese Eastern Railway in 1929-1930, Russia anticipated the Japanese method in the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, though without carrying the process so far. Russia also anticipated Japan in snooting (if this accurate but undiplomatic word may be allowed) the State Department, and in establishing the principle, now internationally accepted, that a nation strong enough to act as it pleases always acts in self-defense, and is never guilty of breaking the KelloggBriand Pact.
All points of this kind, however, which are used in diplomatic skirmishing, are no more than symptoms of the underlying truth. Russia, in fact, had built up a position in the Far East more than equivalent to the old position of Tsarist Russia; and as the legal framework of the modern international treaties had not been designed to cope with Russia, it was possible for Russia to play in and out through the holes, while other nations, like Japan, could not break a way through without a spectacular smashing effect. All the time, however, the truth of the situation in itself, of which the disparity in position between Russia and Japan was only a distorted shadow, was that the Open Door was on the way to becoming a legal fiction. The Open Door is the front door of China, opening on the sea, and it becomes devoid of meaning when there is a back door opening on the frontiers beyond the Great Wall, controlled by a land power which the Washington Conference nations are unable to restrain.
The logical vice of the Open Door principle is that it forbids the domination of China by action on the land. It therefore depends, for its effectiveness, on the retention of Japan among the purely sea-power nations. Yet once a hinterland influence over China begins to develop, out of reach of the immediate seacoast, the interests of the sea powers cannot be maintained except by action on the land. Moreover Japan, while in theory a sea power, is in fact largely a land power by necessity, and therefore, in any period of crisis affecting the balance of continental power in Asia, Japan is forced to take action before Great Britain, and certainly long before America.
The Open Door policy in its inception, under the disguise of a moral attitude, was realistic. It is one of the comparatively rare instances of Realpolitik in the history of American foreign relations. It defined the logical cleavage between maritime interests and mainland interests in Asia. Once Japan had defeated Russia, however, there was no longer a clean break between the land and the sea. A marginal problem was created, and Japan became an amphibious nation, half on the land and half in the sea. In attempting to apply Open Door principles to questions that were no longer black and white, but gray, it therefore became necessary to rely more and more on legal interpretations. The problem developed away from questions of fact toward questions of legality. This process has now gone so far that it is several degrees further removed from the plane of fact. Legalism has become an awkward, unmanageable engine which may fittingly be described as legalitarianism.
This legalitarianism has crowded us all away from the crux of the situation into vicious disputes over ‘justice’ and ‘justification.’ The inexorable truth is that all analyses of the ‘justice’ of Chinese claims or the ‘justification’ of Japanese policy, all legalistic debates over the creation of Manchukuo, all heart-searching over the problem of ‘who would be in the right’ in a war between Japan and Russia, are just so much verbiage. The truth, the yeast in all the ferment, is that the age of domination over China from the sea is done with — unless, indeed, the maritime nations are willing to go ashore in China, cither to ‘help’ China or to help themselves.
The Japanese ‘Asiatic Monroe Doctrine,’ and the demand that Western nations shall not supply China with munitions or even with economic aid, mean precisely this. The ‘rehabilitation’ of China by aid from over the sea would not, in reality, threaten the share in the sea trade with China which Japan already holds. The threat would be in the tendency to bolster up China against Japanese domination from the north, from Manchuria and Inner Mongolia.
The Japanese challenge is designed to test the strength, or rather the determination, of the Western powers before allowing a real struggle to begin. It has, like so many Japanese declarations, been unfortunate in manner, but it has at least been serviceable to the extent of making clear the magnitude of the issues before any of the Western nations have definitely committed themselves in such a manner as to make it difficult to withdraw.
The main issue is nothing less than intervention. If any power is to devote itself to the vindication of the Open Door, it can no longer content itself with staying at sea and uttering pronouncements. It must be prepared to go ashore in China. The events of the last two years have so shattered the structure of the Chinese Republic that, if Japan were to withdraw, the Republic would still collapse, unless propped up by Western ‘assistance’ amounting to international control. That is the clear implication. No disguise of League of Nations Economic Commissions, or international loans, would eliminate the necessity for an active participation in Chinese domestic affairs, fully equivalent to intervention— an intervention for which the Chinese are prepared, if as a result they can escape the domination of a single power like Japan. The only way of countering the intervention at present operative through Manchuria is positive intervention from the sea.
Unless the Western nations are prepared to go to such positive lengths, involving definite commitments and an open acceptance of responsibility, the Great Wall must remain more important than all the navies of America, Great Britain, and the Lake of Geneva. Whether the Great Wall is to be dominated by Japan or Russia is a merely incidental question. The acid test is easy to apply. Suppose Russia were to defeat Japan. How would the situation be changed? Would not China still be overshadowed by Mongolia and Manchuria? Would not the Great Wall be just as dominant over the Open Door and the Treaty Ports as it is now? Would not Chinese Turkistan, far in the heart of the continent, far out of reach of any schematic theory that could be regulated by Washington or Geneva, become a Flanders between Russia, China, and India? Would not the purely maritime interests of America be just as effectively reduced to secondary importance as they now are?
Suppose, again, that the Western nations were to force Japan to withdraw from Manchuria and resign its new continental power. Would China, unaided, be able to enter Manchuria again and stand confidently between Russia and Japan? Would the Great Wall frontier lands, which have begun to break away from China in autonomy movements in Inner Mongolia, rebellion in Chinese Turkistan, and defiance in Tibet, return meekly to China for the sake of a political theory which to them is abhorrent? Would it not be necessary to extend international aid to the lengths of undertaking the ‘pacification’ of these regions on behalf of China?
It is because Japan doubts whether the Western powers, once they see what is implied in intervention, will be willing to commit themselves that the Japanese Foreign Office is confident, not to say arrogant. After having had almost a free hand for more than two years, Japan is in a strong position, and can even afford to compromise, if other nations are prepared to define and limit the extent to which they propose to munition and supply China — especially if Manchukuo can be jockeyed into place for international recognition.
We are, to be brief, up against it. Whether Manchuria, Mongolia, Chinese Turkistan, and Tibet should or should not theoretically be considered ‘integral parts’ of China is now irrelevant. They are important, now, in their own right. They are no longer mere names, and the fact that we have not been taught to consider it important to know what Mongols and Tibetans think and feel about it all does not alter the fact that they are now in the forefront of historical events. For us they are something new in international affairs, but really they are only resuming a function which they exercised for centuries. The fact is that the descendants of Columbus have exhausted the legacy of the sea. The heirs of Marco Polo, approaching China from the hinterland, are in the ascendant once more.