China's Story - William Griffis

China: a Republic

To preserve the life of the oldest of nations, the time had come when in China men must shorten their hair and women lengthen their feet.

Both of these old fashions, of queues and of bound feet, were symbols—the one of a political, the other of a domestic form of slavery. China's vital needs were a keener sense of personality in the individual, more cohesion in the body-politic, and a living faith in the unity of law and its Creator. In order to survive, the commonwealth must take on the features of a modern state. Race pride must become patriotism. Without these changes, China could not live.

Would the necessary transformation come through evolution, or by revolution? After aeon-old adherence to civic order, would this new freedom to man and woman be abused, or would it tend to a larger life?

China's back must be turned upon other things, besides the three-century-old badge of conquest imposed by the Manchus on the head of the males and the token of social slavery fastened by immemorial fashion upon the feet of women, if a modern society, able to compete with western nations, or even with its next-door neighbor, Japan, were to be built up.

All true progress, through adoption of what is apparently new, springs from a deeper insight and clearer apprehension of what is old and tried. This is the truth underlying the myth of the "Golden Age," which stagnant nations locate in the past. Returning to pre-ancient principles, the Chinese must drop medieval forms of ancestor worship, study birth control, in plants, animals, and men, and make selection of the better elements for the improvement of life in all its forms. They must seek for quality, instead of quantity or numbers, in the household, the country's population, the soil, and the products of the earth, air, and sea. The powers of nature must be tamed and harnessed to the service of man and the newer inventions and material forces of the West must be adopted. China must face the logic of facts in that industrial revolution which has affected every civilized nation. She must seek for unity, bury her interminable intestine quarrels, strip the military province governors of their power, and win the confidence, even as she now has the sympathy, of foreign nations.

To effect these beneficent results, the putting on of a new mind is of far more importance than wealth of material. It was the changed mental attitude and interior intellectual preparation, even more than the external impact, that made the New Japan. China has the capacity. Her need is of the new spirit and outlook.

In attempting to interpret the past and forecast the future, we must look first at agriculture and the soil; for these together form the foundation of all wealth. Yet although the Chinese have been "farmers for forty centuries" they have neglected two relatively modern and vitally progressive ideas. The first is the proper selection of seeds. The second is the combating and control of both parasites and the diseases of plants and animals.

In very recent years these principles in the modern colleges on the soil of China have been grasped and put into effect. They open a new era of Chinese agriculture, improving while increasing the yield. With afforestation of the bare hills and proper engineering for the guidance of her rivers and water flow, the famines, that have so long afflicted and desolated China, will have become the forgotten episodes of history—recalled only by the inquiring scholar. China is not over-populated, except in the river valleys. The opening of her mines and underground resources, and the establishment of manufactures will re-distribute, beneficially, the whole nation. There are too many farmers and not enough diversified industries.

The China that has been thus far able to survive all changes and persist through the ages is the resultant of many minds and the human toil of mind and body of pre-ancient time, of the recorded centuries, and of recent years, when altruistic aliens in China's harvest field gave mind, life, and health to "bind the same sheaf." The creation of modern China is the work of innumerable men and women, known and unknown. To neither alien nor native is the credit wholly due, either for accomplishment or for hope. Philosophy and education turn sight into insight, interpret phenomena, save man from stagnation, prevent society from relapse, and keep the lamp of promise brightly burning.

Besides illustrating the principle that all true progress springs from a deeper apprehension of what is old and tried, it is well for both native and alien to note that China herself has in large measure furnished, in the person of her own philosophers, the new mind which fits the common-wealth for wholesome change. Given the needed stimulus from without, the reinforced Chinese need hardly go very far beyond their own resources for mental equipment. Confucius did indeed teach a system, of thought and of conduct, expressed chiefly in etiquette, that has most admirably formed the culture of a fourth of the human race. In its various interpretations and representations, it has aided Korea, Japan, and the nations of eastern Asia in their onward march.

Beside that reconstruction of Chinese thought which was noticed in Chapter XII, the new man with the new mind appeared in the sixteenth century (1472-1528), in the person of Wang Yang Ming, who elaborated a philosophy, not of forms and ceremonies only, or a culture based wholly on things human and earthly. Wang, cultivating the intuitional method, taught men to look within and find the Source of all power. Those who would study Wang's system of thought in his writings, must read his book; but those who wish to see it developed in a body of culture, interpreted in action and its fruit visible in signal results, must turn to modern Japanese history. The makers of the New Japan, in the nineteenth century, probably without a single exception, were disciples of Wang Yang Ming (in Japanese, Oyomei).

Wang suffered the usual fate of seers and prophets, even to detraction, punishment, and exile, but was restored to honor; his teaching won favor and large acceptance, and after his death he was canonized. His vision and teachings have had much to do with the recasting of modern Chinese thought, the making of China's new mind, the overthrow of popular superstition, the galvanizing into life of deadly official inertia, and the creation of the New China. In deepest truth, a plastic mind was vitally necessary to meet the new problems confronting so old a society, because of the clash with western ideas and methods.

The frequent seizures of China's territory, after aggressive wars, so appalling to the Chinese, followed logically a dogma which was rejected by the United States, even from colonial beginnings. This arose from the doctrine of Church and State, begun by Charlemagne and the pope in A.D. 800, which developed into the conceptions of "Christendom" and "heathendom"; by which, in the fifteenth century, the world was divided by the papacy into halves and given to Spain and Portugal.

By further logical evolution, the doctrine in statecraft of "the balance of power" was elaborated. Under this ruling idea, the conscience of Christendom was debauched. More than one "nation of shopkeepers," in its lust for land and gold, virtually eliminated the eighth commandment from politics—whenever a weak nation was confronted by one with superior power. "Under all diplomacy, there must be a solid substratum of force," became the guiding motto not only of Sir Rutherford Alcock, the British minister to Japan in 1863 and in China from 1865 to 1871, but of others. Such a doctrine was totally opposed by so successful a diplomatist as Townsend Harris.

In view of the historic facts patent to the world during and after the Boxer uprising and the subsequent diplomacy, the Government at Washington, in 1908, notified Peking that it would cancel all claims for further indemnity and return what had been already paid, provided that the money thus released should be used for the education of Chinese youth in the United States.

This beneficent arrangement—the logical following out of the time-honored conviction and policy of the American people—again challenged the dogmas and reversed the record of the Old World, even though "Christian." Whereas, papal, imperial, and royal Europe—the Holy Roman Empire, with Pope, King, Czar, and Kaiser—made it a dogma, of both Church and State, that Asiatic and uncivilized nations existed to be exploited or conquered, the creed and practice of the United States, from the beginning, has been that these people were to be helped, healed, taught, and uplifted. President Washington declared that the blessings which we as a nation enjoyed were to be shared by others.

Under this arrangement, about twelve hundred Chinese, young men and women, have been educated, of are in American colleges. They are chosen after competitive examinations—nearly all the girls being daughters of Christian pastors.

It is now time to look at China as a republic. Is it a name only? Or, has there been a real transformation?

When at the inevitable fall of the Ta Tsing, or Great Bright dynasty of Manchu emperors, China became a republic, the movement, as in Japan's revolution of 1868, was largely one of students and "intellectuals," the mass of the people being but slightly enlightened or interested. New Japan arose out of an agglomeration of feudal units. China, that had abolished feudalism over two thousand years before, was a conglomerate of many countries, races, provinces, and communities, with few elements of political cohesion or powers of articulation, though the social and cultural bond was strong. The Chinese were illy fitted either to become a true nation or to form a modern government. Though the name of a republic might be chosen and even the American idea of a striped flag—significant of federal union and the equality of each province, large or small, in the national legislature—yet for the multitudinous units of local freedom, there were few elements of vital political union. One thinks rather of a boneless giant or a monstrous jellyfish—an organism with only the smallest degree of articulation. There existed an enormous mass of population below and the few agitators and leaders above, but the great middle term of a politically intelligent public, which only education and experience could slowly supply, was lacking.

The most formidable obstacle to concentration, unity, or harmony, however, lay in the racial, mental, and economic diversity between the North and South—such as Americans with civil war memories ought to be able to understand with some degree of sympathetic clearness. The men of the two sections are as different, in origin and temperament, as may well be conceived, even though called by one name and nominally of one race. One thinks of the Celto-Frankish and Teutonic peoples and their age-old wars. The southern Chinese, in origin, are largely of Malay descent, interested in the sea and accustomed to spread into other countries. The Northern Chinese are of Tartar and Manchu descent and men of interior land interests. In physical appearance, in mental processes, and in economic interests, the men of these sections are almost as two nations. The bond of the Chinese empire or republic is not political, but is almost wholly social and one of culture.

A full understanding of this fundamental fact furnishes a key to the events following the death of the young emperor in 1908 and that of the famous empress dowager soon after, and the regency of the reactionary Prince Chun. The unfulfilled promises, of a representative government and a modern constitution, provoked open rebellion, which was led by Dr. Sun Yat Sen, a southern Chinese, a Christian and a man of cosmopolitan culture. Opposed to him, in the north, arose Li Hung Chang's pupil and successor, Yuan Shi Kai, of whom we heard in Korea.

Again, as in the Japan of 1868, the southerners were, in the main, men of progressive mind, students, or those who had been abroad or under foreign teachers. The northerners, as a rule, were the conservatives, holding to the old monarchical forms and traditional ideas. In a large sense, here was a struggle of democracy and new ideas against aristocracy and tradition. There were great economic factors, also, which influenced the estrangement of these two sections.

The revolution, which started in 1910, in Canton, spread rapidly through the southern provinces and there was some fighting in 1911; in which year a republic was proclaimed, with Wu Ting Fang, former Chinese minister at Washing-ton, leading. Sun Yat Sen, after Yuan Shi Kai had declined the offer, was provisionally made president. In February, 1912, the boy-emperor abdicated, the monarchists acknowledged the Republic, and a Senate and House of Representatives were formed. When the members of this Congress met in Peking, in 1913, most of them were clad in foreign costume. The People's Party (Kuo-wing Tang) and the southern Chinese dominated the situation. In a joint session of the two houses, Yuan Shi Kai was elected president and Li Yuan Hung vice-president.

To foreign observers familiar with Yuan's career in Korea, such a choice was ominous for republican government. Having a military education, never out of Asia, and saturated with imperialism, Yuan could not brook the interference of a legislature. His methods for ridding himself of critics, rivals, and enemies were those of the firing squad and the executioner's axe. . He filled the offices with his friends and tools and when the Congress made protest, Yuan, on November 4, 1913, ordered the People's Party, after branding its members as rebels, to be dissolved. This left the Congress without a quorum and the southern provinces without representation. Yuan and the northerners were now in supreme power.

At Canton the discredited legislators formed a government under the leadership of Sun Yat Sen. Later, Li Yuan Hung was chosen president.

China was now in civil war. Roughly speaking, the North was militaristic and the South republican. Yuan, having abolished the Congress, now surpassing the example, his model, of the Tai Wen Kun of Korea, aspired to the throne. On December 12, 1915, he proclaimed a monarchy and fixed the date of his coronation for the following February.

The death of Yuan Shi Kai, on June 15, 1916, simplified the situation, but one more attempt was made to restore the Manchu monarchy, on July 1, 1917, the boy-emperor reigning only six days. The marching of provincial armies towards Peking caused a change and the Congress again assembled on the basis of the constitution of 1912, and in August proceeded to form a new constitution; but the age-old quarrels of North and South continued. In August of the next year, 1918, Hsu Shi Chang was chosen president to serve until 1923.

Just when wise men saw national bankruptcy approaching and no outlet to their troubles, the armistice in Europe seemed to open a way to unity. At Shanghai, in the foreign settlement, the northerners and southerners met, hoping to agree; but after months of debate, failed. Meanwhile Japan profited by the situation to strengthen her power in China in every way. Political disintegration increased. The Anfu club was pro-Japanese and strongly militaristic in sentiment. The Chili group trusted more to a peaceful policy. Both were in the North, but in 1920, the two factions came to blows in Peking. The Anfu men, being beaten, fled for shelter to the Japanese legation. The Chili faction was now uppermost.

In the south also, the splitting process, on account of quarrels which were largely over distribution of spoil, went on. The game seemed to be one for money and power, patriotism being more of a theory than of actual practice. The armies were personal, rather than national, or even provincial, though in total these bodies of mercenaries numbered over a million. Thus China's resources were wasted.

Through all these turnings and over-turnings, Japan hoped and waited for a united China in full sovereignty; for such a happy condition of things would add greatly to the prosperity of the island empire, which had become an industrial nation, depending in the main on China for raw materials. If Japanese gold has been, as so often alleged, used politically in China, it has been to secure some sort of stable government. For no other nation has been so wounded with that weapon which the Chinese are past masters in wielding—the boycott. In no instance did Japan, in pride, prestige, and prosperity, suffer more than when, after the publication of the twenty-one demands, the Chinese boycott was applied so vigorously that the government in Tokyo withdrew the Fifth or most infamous group.

On May 7, 1915, the Japanese ultimatum concerning Kiauchau was served. After four months of delay, China, hoping for help from some or all of the Occidental nations, which did not come, yielded and signed the agreement. Though the attitude of the United States restrained the aggressive spirit of Japan, the Lansing-Ishii agreement recognized Japan's "special interests" in China.

In reality, this was another blunder, significant of the temporary reversal of American policy. It meant the shutting of the "open door." It paralleled the mistake of a former administration in giving Japan "a free hand in Asia"—which resulted in hauling down the stars and stripes in Korea, calling home the American legation, and leaving our interests to the mercies of the Prussianized militarists of Japan, who promptly made conquest and extinguished the sovereignty of Korea, a nation with a noble history. It is not at, all improbable that if the Washington government had remained firm in upholding our treaty with Korea, Japan would not have broken hers, and embarked on her bumptious career in Asia.

Happily the results of the Washington Conference of 1921 were to ignore and abolish the "special interests" of any one nation in China, to reaffirm the doctrine of the "Open Door" and, implicitly, to end European conquest in Asia. In May, 1922, the Japanese signed the Shantung agreement.

Again in 1922, civil war broke out, in the conflicts between the armies of General Wu Pei, representing the Peking Government, and General Chang Tso Lin, whose retreat beyond the Great Wall and reported purpose were to found an independent republic in Manchuria and Mongolia.

China's vital problem is to establish on a sure and lasting basis the supremacy of one central government over the constitutionally limited sovereignty of the provinces, without destroying, but rather confirming the powers of both in harmony. This, the only system of federal government that can operate over a vast territory, has been demonstrated to be possible in the United States of America. To this living model, true patriots in China look with ever brightening hope, while wrestling manfully with the problem. At two conventions, one political and the other religious, held in China in the early summer of 1922, living issues were discussed with insight, ability, and invincible faith in a better China to come. In the one case federal union of all the provinces, after the American model, in the other the formation of one Chinese Christian church, independent of foreign control was the theme. In both conventions was the conviction that in great China as in the case of other nations, large and small, "Union makes strength"—the secret of long life for nations.

Meanwhile, as in the same field in which grow wheat and tares, the forces of education, enlightened economics, altruism and Christianity are energizing, along with those of waste and hate—some for the barn and others for the burning—in the shaping of a new China. There are those still toiling, even as nearly a century ago did the American pioneer educators. In the time of the fullness of their labors, the author of this book talked with many of them, as neighbors, friends, and fellow workers. They cherished the hope, as do those who still toil in altruism, that "the regeneration of China will be accomplished like the operation of leaven in meal, without shattering the vessel."

So the Master taught.