China’s Rights and Wrongs

  1. China’s Rights and Wrongs

Whatever may be the color of the speaker, so far as I can discover, only words of respect and affection are spoken of Dr. Tang Shao-yi of China. His character, personality, and mind—the spiritual and mental individuality and worth of the man—constitute perhaps the greatest single, silent, underlying vitality now actuating the slow course of Chinese political and social evolution.

Every country in the world, I suppose, has its beloved elder statesman—its “grand old man”—but out of long-past political conditions and struggles few nations, if any, have retained a leader who means so much to them at present as Dr. Tang Shao-yi means to China. Grand old man he is, yet he is only 65, and when I met him at the threshold of his roomy and pleasing home in Shanghai he struck me as at the zenith of his life in both appearance and vigor.

I found the famous statesman among his grandchildren.

China’s Champion of National Unity.

“These,” said he, spreading his arms wide and smiling down at the youngsters on the floor, “these are mine.”

Dr. Tang, who became Prime Minister of China on the abdication of the Manchu Emperor in 1912 and who later was appointed Foreign Minister—a portfolio, however, he did not assume—has had experience in virtually every department of the government of his country. He was a high court official in the final days of the Manchu regime. He served under Yuan Shih-kai in Korea and in Shantung and was active in the suppression of the Boxer rising, traveling thereafter to the United States to thank the Washington Government for waiving the Boxer indemnity. He was a member of the first group of students sent by the Chinese Government to be educated in the United States and encountered a stimulating phase of Western civilization in the robbery of his train in a Southern state by Jesse James and a gang of subordinate outlaws.

Independence has been the outstanding characteristic of Dr. Tang’s political life. Willing to study facts, to investigate conditions, to hear arguments and to reflect, he acted as he saw fit in the end, even at the cost of breaking with such men as Yuan Shih-kai and Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Dr. Tang is a kind of Daniel Webster or Abraham Lincoln in his devotion to the cause of national unity. Only one government, in his judgment, is wide enough for China, and this is a government embracing within its jurisdiction every man, woman, and child in whom glows the vital spark of the Chinese race.

“And there is such a spark?” I remarked, as we sat talking in the quiet of the statesman’s drawing room.

Marching Toward True Nationalism.

“Most certainly,” he replied. “All Chinese are compounded of the same spiritual stuff. China’s oneness of spirit is not visible to the cursory glance, but it is there. It is the ultimate reality in China. It is China. Localism, provincialism, centrifugalism are strong now because we have not yet a consciousness of the unity of national interests—not even a consciousness of the universality of the Chinese soul. Our dispersed and divided multitudes are unacquainted with one another and ignorant of their interdependence and brotherhood. Our ignorance is but a sign of the vastness of China, our weakness but a portent of Chinese strength in the centuries to come.”

“Your national weakness results from aggressive local or provincial strength?”

“Unquestionably. All nations—there is not an exception—have had their periods of internal blindness, disunion, and strife. America, for example, did not find herself until she had fought one of the bloodiest civil wars in the history of mankind. That war revealed the will of the United States to be one. Chinese internal struggles, likewise, reveal the march of the purpose of union. If this purpose were not on the march there would be no hostile local reactions, no uprisings of sections disturbed by the imminence of a new regime pivoted upon central authority. If this purpose of union were not in motion we should have provincial tranquillity, but we should pay too great a price for it. It is better that China should be racked by war than that she should fall short of the high destiny which only nationality and independence can give her.

“What we have in dramatic manifestation now are our minor virilities of disunion. One day these minor virilities of disunion will coalesce in a major virility of union. China cohesive and vigorous provincially will become China cohesive and vigorous nationally. On that day this motherland of civilization will have its e pluribus unum. Just as strong individual citizens are necessary to strong provincial social unties, so strong provincial social unities are necessary to strong national social unities. Our bedrock necessities, of course, are strong individual men and women, and Chinese men and women, though not of giant stature, are strong in physique, in intelligence, and in morale.”

China on the Road to Democracy.

“You are looking forward to democracy in China?” I asked, realizing what a fine picture of democratic manhood Dr. Tang presented as he sat in his straight-backed chair, leaning forward, his hands on his knees, his clear, steady, humane, dark eyes fixed upon mine—a plainly dressed, rugged, natural man, as innocent of physical pose as he was incapable of intellectual pretense.

“Democracy—yes. No political principle can live except the principle of democracy. It is a principle, to be sure, not yet fully brought down from the heights of idealism, but it is being brought down bit by bit ande the time will come when we shall possess and practice it in reasonable perfection. That time must come. If that time were not coming we could anticipate only social dissolution. People are going to rule themselves or not be ruled. Self-rule is the only authority they will recognize as otherwise than tyrannical and insufferable. It is a sound instinct, infinitely creditable to man, the last word in the assertion of human dignity.

“Wider consultation of the people, wider suffrage, more democracy, are imperative in China. Bosses and cliques and domineering militarists must go. Squeezes, nepotism, favoritism, graft, must go. Forces antagonistic to low standards of public life are mobilizing all over China. Moral retrogression followed the disappearance of the Manchu dynasty, which, after conquering the country, ruled it for more than two and a half centuries; but this ebb will cease and we shall witness an unprecedented return of the moral tide. Young China is in a glow of patriotic and ethical emotion, responding to educational stimulus, stirred by a sense of age-old disrespect, ambitious to affirm for China’s millions their rightful place and influence in the comity of nations.

Democratic Spirit of Young China.

“Chinese illiteracy is much talked about by foreigners. ‘How,’ it is asked, ‘can these illiterate Chinese maintain a republic?’ Well, an elector may be able to read and write and yet be a poor elector. He may lack intelligence and, as he often does, political interest. Look at the millions of eligibles in England and the United States who will not trouble to walk to the polls and cast their ballots on election day. Of what use is their literacy to the democracy of which they are theoretically a part? To what purpose, politically, have they learned to read and write? No; democracy is in the spirit and not in the letter; democracy is an affair of sentiment, of understanding, of conviction, of a sort of religious public zeal.

“This zeal is coming to China. China, to a large extent, is unlettered, but it is not unintelligent. China is enlightened, observant, and thoughtful. It has been silent—too silent. It has been patient—too patient. Its silence and patience have been misunderstood, and both China and the world are paying for this misunderstanding. China’s wisdom, which is widely diffused, has sprung from its thousands of books, the essence of which has imbued the public mind. If literacy and political competence were in the relation of producer and product and if literacy were alone in the first position China would not have political competence. But we all know that literate people may be foolish and illiterate people wise, and it follows that literate people may be poor democrats and illiterate people good ones. Confucian literature by itself has given China a democratic birthright.”

Confucianism Leads to Democracy.

Dr. Tang paused for a moment and a smile of apparently deep satisfaction shone in his eyes.

“Confucius,” he repeated. “His great spirit—the light of his soul—has blessed not only China but Asia. Five centuries before Christ his influence had its beginning, and it is incalculably powerful today. It affects great minds and these transmit its virtue to other minds in ever-widening circles. My old friend, Viscount Shibusawa of Japan, for instance, is a devoted student of Confucius. He told me he had read our philosophical master every day for sixty years. Before the invention of the automobile Shibusawa carried a copy of Confucius in his pocket. Now he carries a copy in his pocket and another in a pocket of his car. If you see the wonderful old gentleman reading as he passes through the streets of Tokyo it is ninety-nine to one he is reading Confucius.”

Returning to the democratic quality of China, Dr. Tang said:

China’s Relations with Japan.

“Let no one infer from our war lords that the Chinese people like war lords. Observe this tiger skin on the floor. It once clothed a free-ranging and ferocious beast in the forst, but finally this beast fell a victim to the hunter and was skinned. Our ruling generals are ranging somewhat freely at the moment. But they must be wary. Not one of them dares to go home. Not one of them would be safe at home. In this fact and in many others we have proof that the democratic heart of China is sound.”

“How are China and Japan getting on together latterly?”

“Our relations are improved. I regard the outlook as favorable. Premier Kato was the author of the Twenty-One Demands, but he seems quite changed, appreciating that progress along the lines of those Demands is impossible. Baron Shidehara’s recent declarations respecting international questions I consider the wisest Japanese utterances of the kind in fifteen years. Tokyo, advantageously to itself and to us all, is enunciating great principles of statesmanship and thus reassuring the world.”

“Do you know Gen. Baron Tanaka, who often is spoken of as Japan’s next Premier?”

“Yes, I know him. His political ambitions puzzle me somewhat. I easily could think of him as a field marshal leading an army into Manchuria; it is less easy for me to think of him as Prime Minister of Japan. I have no idea what he would do in that position. I have no knowledge of the interests seemingly ready to back Tanaka financially, and Japanese parties cannot operate without large funds. Let us hope that the renunciation of a military career by this brilliant soldier signifies his arrival at the conclusion that henceforth man’s highest glory is to be sought, not on the field of battle, but in the political council chamber.”

“Is that your conclusion?”

War Peril in the Far East.

“I was born with that conclusion woven into my spiritual texture. That conclusion is inherited by every true son and daughter of China. Our people are generations ahead of many others in their estimate of war and peace. China is too great to worship the sword. Its power is the power of weakness, not of strength; only the weak need the sword. What wise people would offer homage to a symbol of destruction? Whoever can translate the dense and superimposed inscriptions on the sword will cast it away with horror, for to read these inscriptions is to read history, and history is soaked with human blood.”

“Do you think the sword has been sheathed permanently in the Far East?”

“I am afraid not.”

“Who is going to fight?”

“There is great danger that Russia and Japan will fight. Diligent efforts are on foot to adjust Russo-Japanese relations peacefully, but I am not optimistic relative to their issue. Japan is still less disposed today than she was twenty years ago to tolerate a too-near Russian approach on the mainland of Asia opposite the Island Empire. Count Soyeshima of Japan predicted a few weeks ago that Russia and Japan would be at war within ten years. I should not be surprised if such a war came sooner. Both countries desire spheres in Mongolia and Manchuria. Room there should be, and to spare, for both, since Mongolia, with its area of more than 1,300,000 square miles, is one of the principal divisions of China and has a smaller population than has Chicago.

“But room is not the essence of the matter. Two mutually repugnant orders face each other, the Russian confiscatory, the Japanese conservative; the Russian based on a continent, the Japanese on an archipelago. Russia, naturally, has aggressive tendencies; Japan, naturally, is vigilantly defensive and wishes to establish her first lines of resistance on a periphery as distant as possible from the citadel of her national security. Peril inheres in this situation, and China can heighten the peril by forgetting her national interests and involving herself in the latent Russo-Japanese conflict. China standing steadfastly apart, scrupulously Chinese, encouraging neither Russian aggression nor Japanese adventure on the Asian continent to forestall hypothetical Russian aggression, holds out the best promise of peace in the Far East.”

Bolshevism as a Growing Menace.

“It is asserted that bolshevism already has penetrated deeply into China and that this achievement by the soviet agents is being energetically followed up.”

“Bolshevism undoubtedly is at work in China. Soviet money has been used here freely. But the Chinese have not and never will have any natural sympathy with bolshevism. Individualism is implanted at the core of Chinese character. Bolshevism can cause serious mischief in China only by projecting itself into our politics in support of one general against another, as, for example, Feng Yu-hsiang of Peking against Chang Tso-lin of Mukden, an eventuality that would bring Japan into the military equation. This would mean war, with China as the cockpit. My hope is that Chinese patriotism and wisdom will avert such a calamity, but I am apprehensive.”

“Are there proofs of the use of soviet money to foment trouble in China by way of embarrassing the ‘bourgeois’ nations?”

Physical and Spiritual Despoilment.

“Proofs quite sufficient to convince me, though I myself have not juridical proofs. Moral evidence sometimes is the best evidence. When I see Chinese bolshevists who a little time ago were walking or riding in the cheap and humble riksha, and who now sit back in their motor cars with liveried chauffeurs at the wheels, I do not need the finding of a court of law to tell me what has happened and is happening. Bolshevism in China and in other great countries has the financial backing of the Moscow revolutionaries.”

“Is there in bolshevism anything you like?”

“There is in no form of forcible dispossessionism anything I like. I do not want to be dispossessed. I do not want to be despoiled. But, given the choice between the bolshevist, who would take away my flower pots, and the religionist, who would take away my ancestral tablets, I should choose the bolshevist. He, at any rate, is proposing only to rob me materially, whereas the religionist is proposing to rob me spiritually. I could get on happily enough with fewer flower pots, but I can spare none of the symbols of my affects and faith. Upon these I stand and by these I live.”

“But the bolshevists,” I ventured to say, “are out, according to their own prospectus, not only to seize private property after the manner of the highway robber, but to lay waste the religious and ethical systems of the world.”

Foreign Aggressions Cause Unrest.

“If that be so,” said Dr. Tang, “at least one side of their program is fantastic. To seize private property is not beyond the limits of possibility; it is merely a question of accumulating sufficient physical force. But no commander can march an army into an individual soul and seize the treasures cherished there.”

“Is there in Chinese psychology some morbid or abnormal condition favorable to bolshevist activity?”

“Yes; there is the irritation over the aggression of foreigners against China. This irritation, sense of wrong, resentment, causes social unrest and an instinctive tendency to a rapprochement with any influence hostile to the aggressors. But bolshevism is a faint speck on the situation. What matters and what is going to continue to matter are the native emotions and thoughts and purposes of China. Strikes and riots like those of Shanghai, Hongkong, and Canton may not be caused by the larger agitation in the country—the agitation against extra-territorial courts, concessions, foreign land leases and externally imposed tariffs—but they immediately gain gravity from the deeper trouble. As, volcanically, when a break occurs in the crust of the earth pent-up forces rush for the outlet, so, socially, when there is a rent in the crust of public order repressed resentments concentrate there. No local disturbance in China, whatever its cause or nature, can remain really local until the general psychological situation shall have been normalized.”

“Is there one evil above others that weighs against amicable relations between the Chinese and the foreigners among them?”

Violence the Outstanding Evil.

Dr. Tang, after looking steadily at me for a moment in silence, said impressively:

“Yes; there is one dominant evil. It is the evil of violence.”


“Violence. In the whole attitude and behavior of foreigners toward China there is implied or applied violence. This violence is more pronounced on the part of some foreigners than of others, but it is virtually universal in some manner or degree. By powerful foreigners of no nationality are we treated as equals. We are treated as inferiors. We are bullied, and if we resent the bullying we are beaten. Our political freedom is impinged upon and restricted. Our territory is violated. We are forced to yield concessions. Our fiscal liberty and rights are taken away from us. All these things are made possible by violence or the threat of violence.

“Violence forms the groundwork of nearly all the theory of foreign authority in China; it is an instrumentality of government; it is deliberately terroristic. Violence implied or applied is deemed necessary to keep us in order, to keep us quiescent, submissive, long-suffering, serflike. Terrorism as a means of moral domination leading to physical domination was not liked by Western civilization when Germany had recourse to it in Belgium and France, but the same western civilization uses it against China.

Resentments of Awakening China.

“Let me give you an instance, small in itself, but, thoroughly understood, laden with the full explication of that growing feeling in China which the world must take into account. In one of our treaty ports—one of our ports where Chinese territory is not Chinese territory—a plain-clothes detective, strolling up a hillside street, cane in hand, finds an old Chinese woman’s basket of oranges too far out on the sidewalk. Does he say to her, ‘Madam, you must keep your wares off the footway?’ No. He raps her over the bare head with his cane, kicks the basket into the street, and coldly watches the oranges rolling away down the gutter.

“If a Chinese gets in your way, give him the cane. If a Chinese protests that you have not paid him enough—who ever heard of a Chinese asking much?—give him the cane. It is the Western idea. For the Chinese, and right here in his own country, too, unless he keeps his mouth shut and walks warily, it is always the cane. I ask you whether this can go on. I ask you if it can do anything but plant the seed of endless trouble.”

Dr. Tang had risen from his chair and stood facing me, his hands held out in a quiet gesture of appeal.

Arousing the War Spirit in Chinese.

“Ask The Chicago Daily News to ask the world that,” he persisted. “Ask The Chicago Daily News to ask intelligent men anywhere, everywhere, if they think this use of brute force, this systematized inhumanity, is likely to bring relationships of peace and mutual benefit between foreigners and the uncounted millions of awakening China.

“My country must be studied—I will not say restudied—by the world outside of it,” said Dr. Tang, resuming his chair. “Almost nothing about us seems to be understood abroad. China’s character, motives, genius, historical mission, seem to have eluded even the most diligent and penetrating foreign minds. It generally is supposed, since we do not fight, that we cannot fight—that we have neither the bodily nor the mental requisites of war. It is said we lack the ‘fighting spirit.’

“What is the truth? We Chinese are hardy and accustomed to heavy burdens. I will show you a Chinese woman 70 years old ascending a hill carrying on a pole across her calloused shoulders two baskets of mortar of a weight to make a strong Western man stagger. We are bodily and mentally fit for war, and we have the morale for war; Chinese are not cowards; they are not afraid to die. Chinese have not learned war because they abominate it. So deep is their abomination of it that generations of foreign imposition and cruelty have not crushed out of their natures their congenital love of peace.

“It is the peculiar and unpardonable sin of foreign persecution of China that it tends to deflect the most populous nation in Asia and in the world from the paths of peace to the paths of war. It is said we are divided and in conflict internally. So we are, not so much really as apparently; there is marvelous fundamental cohesion in China. But I admit we have grave domestic troubles. For these are we entirely responsible? We are not. Our domestic ills are aggravated by our foreign ills. Social inflammation in spots, arising from extraterritorial impacts, produces pathological phenomena in all our centers of political and social life.

“China is not free to free herself from dissension and set up a central government representing all her people and exposing a solid front to the world. Release all China’s energy for her domestic problems—remove the foreign yokes that in so many places gall and madden her—and she will not be a great while in placing her house in order. It is the tragedy of this momentous question between China and the outer world that we have, on the one hand, a people devoted to peace and militarily weak, and, on the other, powers that still cherish some of their ancient confidence in force, and that are organized and equipped to transform that confidence into instant action.

Driving China from Peaceful Ways.

“In a poignant situation that yearly—indeed, hourly—grows more difficult and menacing we only can hope that light will dawn where it is most needed before China shall come under the influence of the conviction that her peaceful and humanitarian aspirations have betrayed her, and that only in preparation for war, if not in actual resort to war, can she find national salvation. I am frankly astonished to see great peoples struggling toward world peace through a League of Nations and at the same time pursuing policies in the Orient calculated to drive into militarism the greatest and most peaceful division of humanity known to the history of the world.”

“You feel quite certain foreigners are wrong in esteeming harshness a better quality than sympathy for averting Chinese attacks upon them?”

Justice Denied, China Grows Warlike.

“Harshness has been tried and has failed. Never before was its failure so general and conspicuous as it is today. It is not especially sympathy the Chinese want; they would like common humanity, of course, but what they demand is justice as justice is understood among civilized States. Firmness on the part of the powers will not be complained of by the Chinese if that firmness be exercised for what is right. What we complain of is a firmness that inflicts political and territorial tyranny, economic and fiscal injustice, and personal brutality.”

“It is argued, I boserve, that it would not be prudent to do anything to meet the Chinese point of view while your people are creating a disturbance.”

“Quite so. While our people are creating a disturbance nothing must be done; when we are docile and hard at work nothing need be done. Result: Disturbance or no disturbance, nothing is done. On this principle the machinery of progress is locked, while the day of reckoning relentlessly approaches. To the powers I say with all the force at my command: Make friends of the Chinese while they are disunited and militarily weak. Do this and they will be to you, as time goes on, not a source of danger and loss, but a source of security and profit. Either foreign magnanimity now or Chinese fighting efficiency sometime will compel justice to China.”

“Will the Chinese ever forget the wrongs they allege against foreigners?”

Other Powers Must Show Friendship.

“Not forget them, perhaps, but forgive them. If foreigners are magnanimous toward the Chinese now and henceforth, the Chinese of China’s day of power will remember the good deeds and not the bad ones, for the good deeds will be nearer to the Chinese of that generation. Start at once to make the Chinese of united China, whenever that day shall come, grateful for the kindnesses shown their country by foreigners and forgetful of foreigners’ wrongs against them. That way lies happiness in the Orient. That way lies the peace of the Pacific.”

“You believe in action.”

“In the presence of a serious international problem that grows constantly more serious, to stand still is to await the thunderbolt; to advance perseveringly and prudently is to dissipate the clouds that harbor the thunderbolt. To well-meaning statesmanship throughout the world the call should be: ‘Action!’ Many a war might have been avoided if statesmanship had not swung into action too late. Of all spheres of duty that of statecraft is the one in which carelessness, indolence, timidity, and procrastination attain their maximum of culpability.”

“When you speak of abolishing extra-territoriality and other conditions offensive to China, have you in mind abrupt measures?”

Nations Should Have Good Will.

“Radicalism, but not abruptness, of reform is what we have in mind. We want riddance of every violation of our sovereign status and rights. But we realize this cannot come in the twinkling of an eye. What we demand now, and what our national problems imperatively require, is a well-conceived and determined start on the way to the proposed goal. China is not unreasonable. She appreciates the complexities of a situation that has been long in maturing and presents features calling for patient and statesmanlike handling.

“Foreign life and property in China must be safe. China must accord as well as claim the recognized accompaniments of sovereignty in the civilized world. Co-operation is all that is necessary between the powers and our Republic, each side accepting the postulate that only through a just settlement of the problem can tranquillity and prosperity come to either in the Far East. Let the powers give unmistakable proof of willingness and purpose to absolve China from every form of foreign interference—let them meet and formulate and proclaim their program of emancipation—and the national spirit of our people will rally to the support of our leaders in forming a national government capable of discharging the functions of a modern State.

“To my thinking—and how can I be wrong about this?—it should ber self-evident that the one thing which gives rise to such danger to foreign life and property as prevails in China is the knowledge of my countrymen that China has suffered and is suffering great wrongs at the hands of foreigners. Once foreign peoples treat China with the respect and fairness they show one another, there will be no danger here to either their persons or their possessions. Chinese yield to none in their love for the amenities of civilized intercourse. Chinese are friendly folk. None will go further than they, nor sacrifice more, to be just to or serve a fellow man, whatever his color, religion or nationality.”

Why Foreign Lives Are Imperiled.

“And what would be your final word on peace?”

Dr. Tang’s expression changed from that of the objective to that of the subjective thinker; his mind had passed from the realm of practical politics to the realm of academic speculation.

“If you and I stood together in this greatest commercial center of the Far East one hundred years from today,” said the Confucian seer, “we might be able to shake each other by the hand and say, ‘At last the world has permanent peace.’ Education is the specific for the disease of war, and education works slowly. We must teach our children that to kill in war is precisely as criminal an act as to kill in civil life. Murder is murder. We loathe murderers. People must understand that war killers are murderers. They must understand that war killling is not a national crime which can be brought home to nobody, but an individual crime from which the guilty cannot escape.

“Formulæ, machinery, superficial and artificial contrivances, will not protect us from war so long as fundamentally—so long as at the roots fo our emotional and intellectual natures—we are warlike. We of this era are crammed with potential war. It is in our marrow, our bones, our blood and fiber. It corrupts our souls and makes them hideous. We do not realize it is a cardinal sin against divinity and humanity. We do not appreciate the disgrace of it, its unutterable ignominy. It is there, deep inside us, awaiting the urge of occasion to leap forth in fury, pitiless as the sea, as convulsions of nature, as primeval fire.

Subduing the War Spirit.

“Education alone can subdue this monster. Education can fill our emotional and intellectual natures with a sense of the reasonableness, beauty, majesty, and beneficence of peace. I am happy to know The Chicago Daily News is educationally active in this great field of international relations, where we know so little and need to know so much. I hope and believe its efforts will bear fruit, and I hope its initiative will inspire similar activity, in order that mankind may be awakened to the truth that ‘ignorance is,’ indeed, ‘the curse of God,’ and ‘knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven’.”

  1. China’s Rights and Wrongs